Scottsdale middle schooler advances to National Spelling Bee finals

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – A Scottsdale seventh-grader survived the preliminary rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday to advance to Thursday’s national final round, one of just 45 students to do so.

Nicola Ferguson was one of two contestants representing Arizona in the spelling bee that began the day with 284 students.

Both Nicola and Hannah Norliyn May Batnag Pengosro, a sixth-grader from Newcomb Middle School in New Mexico, made it through first round – a written test – and the first round of spelling on stage.

Hannah was eliminated in the next round when she misspelled the word “dissidence.” The New Mexico middle schooler, who was sponsored by the Navajo Times in Window Rock, left with her parents and could not be reached after the round.

Nicola admitted to being “pretty nervous” in the third round, when the contest moved away from words on the study list students had been given in the weeks before the bee. But she gained confidence as the round progressed.

“When the first couple of people spelled, I got a little more confident because they were words you could kind of figure out,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “And my word, ‘bibliography,’ I had seen a lot of times because I’ve had to do a lot of bibliographies in sixth and seventh grade.”

But spelling the word right is only part of the process. To advance to the finals, contestants also have to have a good score from the written portion of the bee – which some tense waiting as scores were tallied.

Nicola said she had been “a little nervous” that she “would be too far down in the point number” to make the final cut. As soon as her name was announced among the finalists, the Sunrise Middle School student couldn’t help but flash a smile to her parents who were waiting for her off to the right of the stage.

In preparation for the bee, Nicola said she studied only “20 to 30 minutes a night” on the Scripps website, which had “a list of words and also quizzes you could take to practice for the spelling and vocabulary tests.”

The 284 students who started the bee were narrowed to 171 by the third round and 45 for the final round, which begins Thursday morning. The 2016 national champion will win a prize worth $42,900 plus a trip to New York City to appear on “Live with Kelly” Friday morning.