Rebecca Baron, an eighth-grader at Chatsworth Hills Academy, and Alan Chi, an eighth-grader at Sierra Vista Middle School in Irvine, are among the 281 students competing today in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., which has incorporated vocabulary questions for the first time.
The contestants took computer-based spelling and vocabulary tests Tuesday, which are considered the first round of the bee. They will take to the stage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center today for the second and third rounds, where they will attempt to correctly spell one word each.
Contestants misspelling a word will be eliminated.
Those who spelled both words correctly have the chance to be among themaximum of 50 spellers advancing to Thursday's semifinals, depending on how well they did on Tuesday's tests.
Adding the vocabulary questions "is a significant change in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but also a natural one," said Paige Kimble, the bee's executive director and its 1981 champion.
"It represents a deepening of the bee's commitment to its purpose -- to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop English usage that will help them all their lives."
Rebecca is 13, has written several novel-length works and well as many short stories and poems. She is also an avid reader, especially of Shakespeare, and the latest research in physics and astronomy. She has a dog named Trigger, cats named Dante and Wondie, and hermit crabs named Joe and Pippin.
Alan is 14, plays the piano and swims. He enjoys listening to classical music, especially Mozart, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
The bee is limited to students in eighth grade or below, with contestants ranging in age from 8 to 14 years old.
The field consists of students who won locally sponsored bees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense schools in Europe.
Seven foreign nations are also represented -- the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.
The winner of the bee will receive $30,000 from Scripps, which owns television stations and newspapers; a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and complete reference library from the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster; and $2,000 in reference works from Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The semifinal and championship rounds will be held Thursday, with a contestant eliminated after he or she misspells a word.
Rounds two and three can be seen on the broadband network ESPN3.com 5-8:45 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.-3:15 p.m. ESPN2 will carry the semifinals from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday. The championship finals will be on ESPN from 5-7 p.m. Thursday.
Throughout the entire competition, ESPN3.com will carry a second "play along" version, where viewers will have the option to view coverage without seeing the word until the last second so they can test their spelling skills against the champion spellers.
This is ESPN's 20th year of covering the bee.