By PETER URBAN
Stephens Washington Bureau
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Taggart Nakamoto took to the stage Wednesday and correctly spelled “oompah” and “mnemonic” during preliminary rounds of the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
But despite his strong performance in public, Taggart missed the cutoff for the semifinals that will be televised Thursday on the ESPN networks from a resort hotel just outside Washington, D.C.
The field of 278 spellers was narrowed to just 50 semifinalists based on the two rounds of spelling plus results from a written exam each student took on Tuesday.
The top score achievable was 31 points — six for the oral rounds and 25 for the written test. Students who moved on to a third day of competition all scored at least 23 or better.
Only one, 10-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, obtained a perfect score. As of Wednesday evening, judges had not posted the scores for individual students.
Taggart, a 12-year-old from Kealakekua who just completed sixth grade at Konawaena Middle School, said he was a bit nervous as he took the stage for the first time. Those jitters quickly dissipated as Dr. Jacques A. Bailly, the “official pronouncer,” gave him “oompah.”
“I was pretty sure I had it from the beginning,” Taggart said afterwards.
Dressed in khaki pants and an Aloha shirt, the soft-spoken 12-year-old echoed back “oompah.” Taggart then closed his eyes and asked for the definition.
“A monotonous bass accompaniment in a band or orchestra. As in, ‘The tenor was confused by the unplanned oompah to his aria until he realized it was just Mrs. Pigpen snoring rhythmically from the audience,’” Bailly said.
“Can I have the language of origin?” Taggart asked.
“It is an imitative word,” Bailly answered, meaning it reproduces or represents a natural sound.
Taggart took a breath and then quickly spelled out “o-o-m-p-a-h.”
Back on stage in the afternoon, Taggart made quick work of “mnemonic”, a word meaning a memory aid that often takes the form of a rhyme or acronym.
Asking only for the definition, Taggart quickly spelled out “m-n-e-m-o-n-i-c.”
Taggart traveled more than 4,800 miles from his Big Island home to participate in the prestigious event after winning the 2012 Hawaii State Spelling Bee in March.
He was accompanied at the national contest by his mother, Traci, and father, Shan, and grandparents Jeff and Gwen Krumperman from Illinois. All were proud of his accomplishments.
Traci Nakamoto gave some of the credit for Taggart’s success to his older brother, Talmage, a two-time participant in the national bee.
“He coached,” Traci said.
Taggart’s oldest brother, Teagon, was a finalist in Hawaii State Spelling Bee in 2005 and 2006. His second-oldest brother, Talmage, placed sixth in 2007 Hawaii State Spelling Bee and advanced to the 2008 and 2009 National Spelling Bee.
In 2009, Talmage, who was then an 8th grade student, came within one correct word of making the championship round. He ended in 12th place.
Taggart was one of 20 spellers this year who had a relative that competed in a previous national finals, according to organizers.
Aside from the Bee, Taggart and his family toured the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday and were taken onto the House floor as guests of Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.
The family planned to tour the White House later this week and visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum — something that Taggart is particularly keen on doing.