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The Prize Was a Hot Band, so the Spelling Bee Rocked

Students at 26 schools would do a lot, even spell, for a prom concert by Blink-182.

May 05, 2000|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Susana rules.

Blink-182, one of the hottest rock bands around, will play Simi Valley's Santa Susana High School prom Saturday night.

The students proved they were worthy by convincing their principal to sing one of the band's songs over the public announcement system. They tracked down some of the musicians' old yearbooks and ticket stubs. They collected signatures and photographed hundreds of bumper stickers. And they found a junior who could really spell.

They and students from more than 300 Southern California high schools competed to win Saturday's Blink-182 prom concert by completing 10 zany challenges put to them by modern-rock radio station KROQ-FM (106.7). The scavenger hunt extraordinaire so captured the imaginations of thousands of teens that many talked of little else. In the end, 26 high schools managed to pass all 10 challenges.

So, to pick a final winner, the station staged an unlikely spelling bee that had all the earmarks of a rock concert. Hundreds of screaming teens packed the Palace nightclub in Hollywood on Monday night, waving signs that read "Think Blink!" and "You Spell Great!" Many wore their school uniforms.

The hopes of each of the 26 finalist schools were carried by a single, designated speller. On stage, the spellers sat at desks, waiting for their moments. In the audience, classmates cheered them on, some even painting the spellers' names on their bodies.

Pasadena Polytechnic was first up.

"Company," articulated the evening's pronouncer.

"Company," the student repeated. "C-O-M-P-A-N-Y. Company."

"That is correct."

Like a television game show, the appropriate response came with a soundtrack: a bell and a round of applause. The canned applause was wholly unnecessary. The room was a cacophony of whistles and clapping.

Who knew a spelling bee could be so rowdy?

"Oath." "Stout." "Concrete." The next several words were spelled without incident.

Then Speller No. 10 approached the microphone.

"Pocket," the pronouncer said.

"Can I have that in a sentence please?" asked the smart-aleck from La Canada High. The crowd tittered as he spelled the word correctly.

Fifteen minutes passed before the first school was disqualified.

"Derby," the pronouncer said.

"D-U-R-B-Y," the girl answered.

"I'm sorry, but that is incorrect."

Instead of the now-familiar bell, a buzzer sounded. The girl's desk was removed. Mayfair High in Lakewood was out of the running.

Twenty-five schools remained. Despite increasing requests for words' definitions and language of origin, that number dropped to 10 in less than half an hour with the misspellings of "plumber" ("plummer"), "diligent" ("dilligent"), "praline" ("prolene") and "marjoram" ("marjorum"), among others.

"I thought they said 'margarine,' " said Jamie Espinosa, 15, one of 20 students from Hawthorne High School who was at the Palace to cheer Javid Shaikh, the school's 17-year-old speller. Jamie said she and her sister Juliana, 16, did "everything but break school rules" to qualify for the contest.

They located and photographed 182 cars with KROQ bumper stickers. They contacted their local cable channel so they could get a sign with the words "Blink-182" and their school name on television. They even got their mother involved, having her tape 16 hours of KROQ so they could write down, in order, every artist and band the radio station played from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on April 13.

Still, Jamie said she was only mildly disappointed to lose Blink-182 for the prom. "If Hawthorne made it this high, that's OK because we're a ghetto school. We passed our goal of [spelling] the first word."

Students from Huntington Beach High said they weren't disappointed either when Andy Kutas, "the second smartest" student in this year's graduating class, spelled "limerick" with two m's.

"It's OK because he got 'pachyderm.' None of us knew how to spell that one," said classmate Saxon Nowotka, who with three other boys painted "A-N-D-Y" on their bare torsos.

With the field narrowed to two, the words were getting longer, the spellings faster.

Words like "hemophiliac" and "chaldron" were volleyed back and forth between Lauren Girard, a 17-year-old junior from Santa Susana High and Tristan Jean, an 18-year-old senior from Fountain Valley High who studied the dictionary to prepare for the contest.

"Chorine," the pronouncer said.

"C-H-O-R-E-N-E," Tristan said, misspelling it.

It was back to Lauren, who needed to spell "pertinacious" correctly to win.

She did. In the audience, a trio of girls, including Lauren's 17-year-old classmate Vanessa Jackson, screamed and burst into tears.

Why did she want Blink-182 to play at her prom so badly?

Vanessa rolled her eyes and said, "Because it's Blink-182!"

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