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In a spelling bee, only one competitor can avoid the sting of defeat.

Tuesday, Matt Wright, an eighth-grader at Northeast Middle School, avoided the bee's sting to become the system-wide spelling champion for High Point Public Schools.As the system's winner, he will go to Winston-Salem on April 8 to represent the Furniture City in regional competition. A win there will move him to state competition.

Wright, son of Roscoe and Connie Wright, was one of 12 students present for the spelling be held in the conference room of school system's Administration Building. The students - one fourth-grader, 8 fifth-graders and 4 eighth-graders - were all winners of competitions at their respective schools.

On hand was defending system champion Ivy Bulla, an eighth-grader from Ferndale Middle School who was making her fourth appearance as a school winner.

Bulla's presence worried Wright. The two had gone head-to-head in 1987 with Bulla outlasting Wright.

While parents and educators looked on, the students solemnly began spelling words called to them by the pronouncer. Under the rules the students could ask for the word's root, it definition and the use of the word in a sentence. One by one they stumbled. Edward Gill was first to go, missing ``interior.'

After several rounds and over 100 words, only Wright, Bulla and Angela Curry, another eighth-grader from Griffin School, remained in the hunt for the championship.

Around the trio went - each carefully spelling their words. Curry, dug deep to spell ``masquerade,' only to be informed she had missed it.

That left only Wright and Bulla. Under the rules, when the bee was down to two competitors, a miss did not automatically mean disqualification. A miss meant the opponent had to spell the missed word, and then spell another to win.

Wright appeared to visualize the words on the back of his eyelids as he spelled them. Bulla's spellings seemed to come straight from her brain to her mouth. Wright struggled with ``statistician' but got it correct. Bulla was given ``empirical' and after thinking gave it her best try. ``Incorrect,' said the pronouncer.

Wright, after a moment of thought, spelled ``e-m-p-i-r-i-c-a-l.'

``Correct,' answered the pronouncer.

``Worrisome,' called the pronouncer to Wright, who proceeded to end his worries by spelling it correctly.

Students participating in the spelling bee were: Letisha Berry representing Fairview, Ivy Bulla from Ferndale, Angela Curry from Griffin, Edward Gill from Johnson Street, Scott Lockwood from Kirkman Park, Ian Reid from Montlieu, Matt Wright from Northeast, Katherine Bradner from Northwood, Amanda Ramey from Oak Hill, Teneka Smith from Oak View, Tremaine McInnis from Parkview, and Branson Page from Shadybrook. Tamara Lane from William Penn was ill and unable to attend the competition.

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