Valley speller nails the word ‘recumbent,’ heads to capital to compete in national bee

Nicola Ferguson will head to Washington, D.C., to represent Arizona in the 89th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee May 25-26. (Photo by Gilbert Cordova/Cronkite News)

The 27 finalists at the Arizona Spelling Bee represented each of Arizona’s 15 counties. Some counties had more than one representive. (Photo by Gilbert Cordova/Cronkite News)

One contestant grips the mic as he spells a word, and the judges check for accuracy. (Photo by Gilbert Cordova/Cronkite News)

The state’s top 27 spellers, ranging in age from 9 to 14, competed in this year’s Arizona Spelling Bee. (Photo by Gilbert Cordova/Cronkite News)

Arizona’s top spellers met for a showdown in downtown Phoenix on Saturday to determine who will represent the state at the national competition.

Twenty seven students competed in the Arizona Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Arizona Educational Foundation.

Nicola Ferguson, a seventh grader from Sunrise Middle School in Scottsdale, took a different approach to this bee compared to previous competitions.

“I really didn’t study as much as I did in previous years because I have more to do now that I’m in middle school,” she said. “I did read a lot of books and looked at the list we were given a lot.”

But Nicola had a lot of competition as she faced the best spellers from each of Arizona’s 15 counties.

Saturday’s bee went on for nearly three hours, and the spellers faced words like “bambino,” “era” and “bookkeeper.”

Parents nervously watched as their child approached the mic, hoping not to hear that daunting ding of the bell.

“I think it’s hardest in the first couple of rounds. You’re very nervous, but as it goes on, you calm down,” said Chris Ferguson, Nicola’s father.

And that’s exactly what happened as Nicola approached the final round.

Soon, only three spellers were left. And like dominoes, two went down. Then with a swift spelling of “recumbent” in the 17th round, Nicola won.

“I’m still really surprised that I did manage to win it. I wasn’t expecting this at all,” Nicola said.

Her father said it was exciting.

“I mean, think about a couple hundred thousand of kids (who competed), and she finished on the top. It’s still hard to fathom,” Ferguson said.

Nicola will head to Washington, D.C., to represent Arizona in the 89th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee May 25-26.

The last Arizona national spelling bee winner was 63 years ago when Elizabeth Hess took home the prize, according to

A broadcast of the 2016 Arizona Spelling Bee will air at 9 a.m. on April 20 on Arizona PBS, Channel 8 (KAET).