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National spelling bee kicks off

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Spelling bee kicks off with 273 contestants
  • Finals to be televised Friday
  • Contestants range in age from 8 to 15
  • English not the first language of 21 spellers

Washington (CNN) -- The Scripps National Spelling Bee kicks off Wednesday, with 273 contestants taking part in preliminary competition. The finals are Friday.

The spellers range in age from 8 to 15, with the youngest - Vanya Shivashankar, of Olathe, Kansas -- being the sister of last year's champion, organizers said.

Vanya's sister, Kavya, spelled "laodicean" correctly to take top honors in May 2009.

The then-eighth-grader won $40,000 in cash and prizes for nailing the final word. Pronounced lay-odd-uh-see-an, the word means lukewarm or indifferent, particularly in matters of politics or religion.

The spelling bee, in recent years, has skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to exposure on television and in movies. This year's finals will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. ET Friday on ABC.

The preliminaries and the semifinals will also be televised on the ESPN network.

According to the contest's website, 102 of the spellers this year speak languages other than English, and English was not the first language of 21 of the spellers.

The first National Spelling Bee was in 1925 and featured nine contestants.