Defining moments: Area youth competes in vocabulary contest

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Parsimonious. Sesquipedalian. Supercilious.

Can you define these words?

Twelve-year-old Thomas Werth certainly can.

The Grace Lutheran School sixth-grader spent part of his spring break in Williamsburg, Va., defining these and other tough words as part of the Readers Digest Word Power Challenge, a new nationwide vocabulary competition for fourth- through eighth-grade students.

The boy, who first heard about the competition through his teacher, Grace Lutheran's School Minister Dennis Leckwee, took a series of written tests earlier this year to compete in the state level of the contest.

"It was three tests," Tommy recalled. "I think there were 250 questions, and I guessed on 249 of them."

Tommy must have made some good guesses, though, because he earned the highest score in the state, winning a spring break trip to Williamsburg for the national competition.

Readers Digest paid for Tommy and a parent to fly to the Colonial-style city, but the Werth family decided to take advantage of the opportunity and make it a full-week East Coast trip for Tommy, as well as his parents, Fred and Marian, sister Jennifer, a freshman at Soldotna High School, and brother, Kenny, a second-grader at Grace Lutheran.

The family flew to New York City, where they met up with Tommy's Midwest-dwelling grandparents for a few days, attended the St. Patrick's Day Parade and visited sites such as Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Then the family took a train to Washington D.C., for more site-seeing before hitting the competition in Williamsburg.

"It was a good excuse for a vacation," Tommy joked.

At the contest, Tommy made friends with 52 other students from around the country (one from each state, one from D.C. and one from a military base in Germany). The students exchan-ged gifts from their home states, then faced off for the vocabulary competition.

Students were put in small groups for the 12 preliminary rounds, in which they were asked word-definition questions.

"They were all based on word meaning," explained Marian Werth. "They might be applying meanings or picking out the sentence with the correct (word) usage."

Tommy admits he didn't do much studying for the contest.

"I read two pages of the dictionary and about died of boredom," he said. "How do you study for something that could be any word?"

Mostly, he attributed his success to a lot of time spent reading.

It worked pretty well, too. Tommy was one of the younger students to make it to the national level of competition, though he did not make it to the finals.

He did, however, get to attend the final round, which featured The Today Show's Al Roker as emcee and was televised.

Tommy said it took about 2 1/2 hours to film the 30 minute televised final round, and Roker spent the breaks making jokes with the kids.

"He was funny," Tommy said.

Overall, Tommy said the trip is one he won't forget and that he would like to try the competition again in the future.

Apparently, he knows the meaning of tenacious, too.

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