Alex J. Clifton Wells, an eight-grader at Standley Middle School, began the annual competition Tuesday by taking a 50-word test on a computer keyboard. Only 25 words of the test will be counted toward the competitors' scores, with one point given for each word spelled correctly.
Wednesday, the contestants will take part in rounds two and three, which are conducted on stage and require each student to spell one word in each round.
Spellers earn three points for each correctly spelled word. That gives each contestant the chance to earn up to 31 points in the first three rounds.
At the end of round three, 50 spellers will advance to the semifinals based on their scores.
The semifinal round will begin at 7 a.m. California time Thursday, with a contestant generally eliminated when he or she misspells a word.
The championship round begins at 5 p.m. California time Thursday.
Rounds two and three can be seen on ESPN360.com beginning at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, while the semifinal round can be seen live on ESPN at 7 a.m. Thursday. The finals will be shown on ABC, tape-delayed on the West Coast, at 8 p.m. Thursday.
The spelling bee is limited to students in eighth grade or below, with this year's contestants ranging in age from 9 to 15. Two-thirds of the contestants are aged 13 or 14.
In addition to spelling, Wells is an accomplished musician who plays the bassoon, piano and clarinet. He also composes symphony and chamber music and has performed with local and statewide honor bands. He hopes to become a composer and symphony conductor.
The winner of the spelling bee will receive $30,000 from Scripps, $5,000 from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond from the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster, and reference works from Encyclopaedia Britannica valued at $3,600.
Only one Southern Californian has ever won the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which began in 1925. Anurag Kashyap of Poway won in 2005.