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This time, a boy's words carry him

Todd Petrie always thought winning the county spelling bee was something that happened to other people.

But Todd learned spelling dreams come true as he took first place in the 1994 Citrus County Spelling Bee on Wednesday morning at Andre's of Citrus Hills.

Todd became the county's top speller when he correctly spelled "jocosity" after another pupil missed it, then spelled "carcinogen" correctly.

When Todd, 14, said the last letter in "carcinogen," the audience burst into applause, the judges and word pronouncer smiled, and the room filled with shouts of "Go, Crystal River Middle," where Todd is in the eighth grade.

Amanda Welch, 13, a seventh-grader at Crystal River Middle School, finished second. Kristen Geddes, a seventh-grader at Inverness Middle School who turns 13 today, finished third.

Todd, Amanda and Kristen will go to the regional spelling bee March 23 at the St. Petersburg Times building in St. Petersburg. From there, pupils will have a chance to compete in the national competition in Washington, D.C. The county spelling bee is sponsored by the Times and Delta Zeta sorority.

Wednesday's spelling bee included 39 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Inverness, Crystal River and Lecanto middle schools, New Testament Christian School, Red Level Christian Academy, Central Catholic School of Citrus County and Seven Rivers Christian School and, for the first time, home schoolers.

Ron Kirves, who coordinated the spelling bee, said this year's field was the largest he can remember. In the county bee 11 years ago, he said, six pupils competed.

Before the spelling bee began, the pupils were anxious. Jesse Beleck bowed her head in prayer and crossed herself. Others tapped their feet on the floor, giggled nervously and swung their legs under their chairs.

Once the spelling began, the pupils stood individually before a microphone, faced the three judges and listened to word pronouncer Lynne Boele, an associate professor at Central Florida Community College.

In the first round, pupils were stumped by "booth," "interior" and "farewell," among other words. In the second round, words such as "zeal" and "supersede" eliminated contestants.

The words became more difficult in the third round; 15 pupils were knocked out by "assertive," "brilliance," "martyr" and "confetti." At the beginning of Round 4, 12 spellers remained. As the round wore on, pupils fell to "jaundice," "mongrel" and "perjury."

All participants received certificates, and the top three finishers were given trophies from the school system, dictionaries from the Times, and savings bonds from the law firm of Brannen, Stillwell & Perrin: $100 for first place, $50 for second and $25 for third.

After stepping from the stage, Todd was greeted by his father, Russell Petrie, whose pride was hard to contain. "I'm very proud of him," Petrie said. "He excels in everything he attempts." Todd, whose favorite subject is science, was eliminated early in last year's bee.

This year, he studied his words, and when he finished spelling "carcinogen," he could hardly believe it. "I didn't think I'd get there. It didn't really kick in. . . . It's always someone else _ you see it happening to other people."

Amanda, who finished second, said she wasn't too nervous but she was surprised she did well because she didn't really study.

Kristen's third-place finish is "quite a present" for her birthday, said her mother, Phyllis Geddes.

Elwyn Edwards, a retired teacher and one of the judges, said that "the big thing is to maintain composure. . . be very careful if you don't understand a word."

Making a good speller, he said, means reading. "Read, read, read a lot."