OXON HILL, Md. (Reuters) - The youthful contestants at the U.S. Scripps National Spelling Bee boast a lot of interests in their lives besides spelling, with athletes, musicians, actors and writers among the almost 300 competitors.
Shiv Lamba, 14, juggles being one of the best young spellers in the United States with playing soccer for the national developmental squad. The eighth-grader from Centreville, Virginia, said he studies spelling constantly, including while traveling to and from soccer practices.
"When we went to Europe for a tournament in Spain - we finished second - on the plane I was studying while everybody else was talking and stuff," said Shiv, who made it to the semifinals before missing on "eupyrion," a kind of match.
Ask Thomas Duck, 12, what he does besides spell, and the words come out in a rush.
"I play hockey, I play baseball, I sing in a choir, I play the trombone in a band, I play the violin. I eat three meals a day, I go to school and I sleep," said Thomas, a seventh-grader from Halifax, Nova Scotia, ousted earlier in the competition.
Paige Kimble, the executive director of the Bee, said many contestants listed music and sports as favorite activities, but there was no clear link between outside activities and success at the Bee.
The spellers include a cast member of the Broadway musical "Annie," a championship snowboarder, a crocheter and an expert on wetlands conservation.
Eesha Sohail, 13, an eighth-grader from Bakersfield, California, spent up to two hours a day studying spelling, but loves to write and is interested in science and medicine.
"It's a lot of fun to write stories. I'd love to become an author and a doctor," said Sohail, who made it to the semifinals before going out on "morphallaxis," a regeneration of tissue.
Ten spellers advanced to the finals of the 88th annual Bee to be held on Thursday night and televised by ESPN. Dev Jaiswal, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Louisville, Mississippi, held the No. 1 score coming out of the semifinals.
The winner receives $35,000, savings bonds and other prizes. The finalists emerged from more than 11 million hopefuls in eight countries and all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and Defense Department schools.
Indian-Americans have won the last seven titles and 11 of the past 15 years.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Will Dunham