“Rufosity” Boots Local Speller from National Bee


It's a word that the Scripps National Bee defines as "the quality or state of being any of several colors averaging a strong yellowish pink to moderate orange."

An average Joe might just say reddish.

For 14-year-old Lillian Allingham, the word was the only thing standing between her and a highly-coveted seat as a finalist in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

While she spent months studying the roots of words in Greek and Latin, when Allingham approached the microphone on stage at the Gaylord National Convention Center at National Harbor, Maryland on Thursday morning, rufosity was a word she had never heard.

"I definitely didn’t know it, right from the bat. I wasn’t really sure what to do about it," Allingham said.

The visibly nervous student from Wilmington, Delaware exhausted all of her lifelines, asking the pronouncer for the definition, part of speech, language of origin, and for the word to be used in a sentence, before hesitantly spelling it.

"I got the definition and I knew that rufa- is a Latin root. So, I knew that was the beginning. Then I didn’t know if it was -sity, -city, or -scity, and so I just picked one."

"R-u-f-o-s-c-i-t-y," the speller said before the panel of straight-faced judges.

And then came the dreaded bell ding, indicating Allingham had chosen the wrong set of letters.

The audience applauded her as she made her exit from the stage and the competition, for the final time.

As an 8th grader, Allingham is no longer eligible to compete in the National Bee. But she says, she's just happy to have made it as far as she did.

"This was really my goal, to make it to the semifinals. So, I'm really proud of myself right now," she said.

Scripps spokesman Chris Kemper said Allingham has every right to be.

In her journey to the national championship, Allingham beat out more than 60 Delaware students to win the state spelling bee championship title in March, 2013. For that accomplishment, she earned a $100 savings bond and an 11-pound dictionary, which her mother Pamela Allingham says she uses all the time.

From there, she showed her linguistic prowess in preliminary rounds and computer-based tests in the national competition by correctly spelling or defining words like bokmakierie (a family of passerine birds), and metatarsal (a group of bones in the human foot).

According to Kemper, Allingham was one of only 281 students selected to participate in the Bee out of a pool of more than 11 million children. She went on to become one of 46 semi-finalists in the national competition. Win or lose, Kemper says, that's a heck of an accomplishment.

"They’re already champions, they’re in a very, very elite category. So, even if they don’t get to move forward, I think they should be very proud of that accomplishment,” he said.

How she made time for studying thousands of word origins is a mystery.

As a student at the private, pre-k through 12th grade Sanford School in Hockessin, Del., Allingham played piano and clarinet in the school band, served as vice president of student council, wrote and edited for the school's literary magazine, and starred as the lead in a high school production of Annie.

Pamela Allingham says she and her husband, Tom are "crazy proud" of their daughter.

"Making it to the semifinals was her goal and she worked really hard to do that, and we’re crazy proud of her," she said. "It's been a very positive experience for her."

Cheryl Fleming of the Sanford School says students and staff are already planning a celebratory 'welcome home' event for the young speller on Monday. According to Fleming, the school is also beaming with pride over Allingham's success in the competition.

"She’s a two-time state champion.  So it’s great to see her win back to back. We’re very proud of her and all that she has done. It’s terrific," Fleming said.

Allingham now heads home to prepare for her 8th grade graduation and a family summer vacation to Paris.

After her trip, she'll visit Philadelphia to participate in an acting camp with the Arden Theater Company. Allingham says she plans to pursue a career as an actress or a children's book writer. For the latter, she'll have quite a vocabulary to start with.

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