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Long Island

New Hyde Park girl wins LI Spelling Bee

Casey Durant, an eighth-grader from New Hyde Park Memorial, spelled "constituent" correctly to win the Long Island Spelling Bee Thursday and a shot at the top spelling prize in Washington.

After an hour and a half of polysyllabic words, Durant, 13, prevailed over the other 24 finalists in grades 4-8 who competed in the event held at Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School.

"I was kind of nervous. . . . But I tried to calm myself down and focus," she said afterward.

Durant had prepared for the bee by listening to audiotapes of words her father had recorded for her.

Coming in second was a sixth-grader from Stony Brook, Ariel Leong, 11. The W.S. Mount Elementary School student missed "fizgig," a firework or whirling top that fizzes as it moves.

The bee's youngest competitor, Malaya Press, 9, made it to the 10th round of the 14-round competition. The Plaza Elementary School student from Baldwin was the only fourth-grader in the finals.

She had to adjust the microphone lower each time she rose to spell a word. She sailed through the first rounds but stumbled on "heron."

"I was studying every day," Malaya said, adding she hoped to be back next year.

The Long Island Spelling Bee was sponsored by the Long Island Jewish World newspapers.

Casey will go to the Scripps Howard 83rd Annual National Spelling Bee finals in Washington June 2-4. She also plays golf and tennis and participates in math competitions, and said she had hoped to win because this is the last year she is eligible.

"I'm so excited," she said.

The finalists were selected from 105 students who were tested earlier this year.

Two-time winner Zachary Zagorski of Oceanside, who placed first last year, is now in high school, so could not compete. But he cheered on his younger brother, Jason, a sixth-grader at Fulton Avenue School in Oceanside.

"I think I've done what I can do and now I am coaching my brother," said Zachary, who finished 17th in the nationals.

But Jason was knocked out in the sixth round, missing "jacamar," a tropical bird.

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