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Can local students top 6-year-old in National Spelling Bee?

Alex Howe, 9, of Victorville yawns next to Sam T.E. Nitz, 13, of Costa Mesa as they compete in the National Spelling Bee.

Several Southern California students have joined hundreds in Maryland to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, where they have already have encountered words like "Italianate" and "ullage."

On Wednesday, the whiz kids competed in the preliminary rounds of the two-day contest with a chance to take home prizes including $30,000 cash and a print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The local spellers include:

Shruti Amin, 14, from Thompson Middle School in Murrieta

Isabel J. Cholbi, 10, from Kimbark Elementary School in San Bernardino

Justin K. Chuang, 13, from Chaparral Middle School in Diamond Bar

Nickan Fayyazi, 12, from Portola Highly Gifted Magnet Center in Tarzana

Sam Nitz, 13, from the Pegasus School in Huntington Beach

Brian Jeffers, 13, from Las Colinas Middle School in Camarillo

Alex Howe, 9, from the Academy of Performing Arts and Foreign Language in Victorville

Lerick B. Gordon, 12, from Fort Irwin Middle School in Fort Irwin

California sent a total of 16 spellers to the national competition, which will continue with the semifinals Thursday morning and championship finals Thursday evening.

The competition consists of mostly middle school students, many of whom write imaginary letters on the back of their placard. At least one student has passed out on stage and one notable speller this year is just 6 years old.

Lori Anne Madison, a second-grader from Virginia, is the youngest competitor in the history of the Bee. She spelled "dirigible" correctly Wednesday in the second round. You can track the spellers' progress here.


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Photo: Alex Howe, 9, of Victorville yawns next to Sam T.E. Nitz, 13, of Costa Mesa as they compete in the National Spelling Bee. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

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