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TOP SPELLER A STUDY IN DEDICATION

After studying spelling five hours a day the past school year for a total of 1,100 hours, Colleen Huber reached the big time Wednesday for young spellers - the National Spelling Bee.

Of course it may seem like deja vu for 14-year-old Colleen, of Vernal, the champion of the Deseret News Utah Spelling Bee. After all, she was here last year - but only to watch her younger sister Tara compete.Tara finished 38th out of 200, the highest finish in memory for a Utahn. But now it is Colleen's time in the spotlight - after finishing second to Tara in their school district bee last year. (The other Huber sister, Erin, finished second to Colleen in the district bee this year.)

"Being here before makes it a little easier because I know the procedure," Colleen said. "But I still get nervous."

Colleen was scheduled to be the 133rd of 222 spellers to compete Wednesday. Because of the large number of spellers, organizers eliminated use of "easy" words in the opening round and went immediately to "intermediate" words to more quickly eliminate competitors.

No matter how well she does, appearing in the national bee is the payoff for months of almost unbelievably dedicated studying for Colleen.

"She spends about five hours a day studying. And in preparation for the school, district, state and national bees, she's spent more than 1,100 hours total studying," said Colleen's father, Victor.

"People think we just sit down and go over words. But we study word origins, the pronunciation guide and foreign words about in proportion to how often they occur in the language." After the family's experience in the national bee last year, Victor Huber said he had a better idea of the types of words his daughters should study.

So he went through the dictionary and typed out a list of 460,000 words he though were likely candidates - chosen to represent different sounds and national origins and each letter of the alphabet. Then he cut the list to 100,000. He said Colleen has memorized 15,000 to 20,000 of them.

About the studying, Colleen said, "It's never boring. Sometimes it's frustrating, but it's never boring." She also finds time to achieve straight A's in her other classes.

As the family drove to Washington for the competition, Colleen spent more than five hours a day studying her Webster's dictionary in their motels. She took time out enough, however, to enjoy trips to the National Zoo, various Smithsonian museums and the monuments in Washington.