WASHINGTON - Jimmy McCarthy, the first profoundly deaf pupil to compete in the National Spelling Bee, lost out 20 minutes into today's final round as he failed to spell "ululant" correctly.
The 11-year-old Floridian won a round of sustained applause for his efforts.
Jimmy, known as the boy behind the book for his avid reading, was obviously nervous before today's elimination rounds. His dad, Dennis McCarthy, said the boy awoke at 3 a.m. from a nightmare, dreaming he was caught in the fantasy movie "Jumanji," in which children get trapped in a magical board game.
"The only way out is for the kids to finish the game," Dennis McCarthy explained. "But he was all right - went right back to sleep."
Before the finals, Jimmy said, "I feel very happy because I made it this far. I think it's possible I could win. And then sometimes I think it's impossible, and I get nervous," he added.
Jimmy was ruled out when he spelled "ululant" - an adjective meaning howling or wailing - as u-n-d-u-l-a-n-t.
He spent about half an hour in the Comfort Room, a backstage area for youngsters who misspell their words, then left "to have some fun now," his mother Sally said. "He didn't cry or anything," she said. "In fact, he's still excited and he wants to do it again next year."
Yesterday, Jimmy, who goes to school in Land O'Lakes, Fla., sped through three rounds, spelling "diplopia," a double-vision disorder, "dormition," death resembling falling asleep, then "vernacularize."
The sixth-grader can detect some sound when he uses two hearing aids. A radio device lets him better hear the announcer. Jimmy's interpreter mouths and signs the words. But there are only 40,000 words in sign language compared with about 400,000 in most English-language dictionaries.
For "dormition," for example, the interpreter made the signs for both death and sleep, and Jimmy figured out the rest.
"You know, it's not all that easy up there," Jimmy said. "I'm looking at all those people. They're looking at me. And I'm thinking, `Oooooooo.' "
Out of 247 pupils in the 69th annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, 103 made it through the first three rounds yesterday.