The 77th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, David Tidmarsh, 14, of South Bend, Ind. The eighth-grader outspelled 264 other contestants in a Washington, D.C., ballroom last week, nailing words like serpiginous (which means spreading), sumpsimus (correct expression) and sophrosyne (temperance). He won on autochthonous (indigenous), which was one of the 10,000 words on Tidmarsh's study list, which he compiled by going through the 470,000 words in Webster's dictionary and writing down the ones he didn't know.
In the finals Tidmarsh beat Akshay Buddiga, who recovered from a fainting spell earlier in the competition. When the judges gave him the word alopecoid (foxlike), the 13-year-old wobbled and collapsed to the stage. But with Jake LaMotta-like determination, Buddiga got back to his feet and spelled the word correctly. After receiving a standing ovation, he was led offstage by Bee officials, who gave him a cookie and a glass of water. He returned 20 minutes later and spelled while seated. "It was scary when he went down, but it was impressive the way he popped back up and was able to spell his word," says Tidmarsh. "It was pretty esoteric for a while, but he later told me that the heat of the lights really got to him. He was a true competitor."
As was Tidmarsh, who withstood the pressure that comes with the Bee, which starts with nine million spellers in local contests and is seen by millions on ESPN. The champ celebrated his victory—he won a trophy and $12,000—by checking out Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While he enjoyed it, it doesn't top his alltime favorite movie. "I've seen Spellbound at least 10 times," he says of the documentary about the 1999 Bee. "It's a great story. Although I like my ending better."