NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – “S-c-y-l-i-u-m. Psyllium.” A bell rang and, just like that, Nicola Ferguson was eliminated from the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, just minutes into the final round Thursday.
The quick exit capped months of preparation for the spelling bee and a week of competition that started Monday with 284 students from around the country and the world who were narrowed down through successive rounds of spelling until the champions were crowned Thursday night.
Nicola, a seventh-grader at Scottsdale’s Sunrise Middle School, was one of two students with Arizona ties in the bee. Hannah Norliyn May Batnag Pengosro, a sixth-grader from Newcomb Middle School in New Mexico, was representing the Navajo Nation.
Hannah lasted until the final round Wednesday when she misspelled the word “dissidence.” Nicola correctly spelled “bibliography” in that round to become one of 45 finalists to take the stage Thursday.
The Maryland Ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on Thursday was only half as full as it had been Wednesday – but it was just as loud. The audience, which appeared to be mostly family members of the contestants, cheered and clapped every chance they got.
While the crowd was smaller, the tension was higher. Audience members sat tapping hands and feet, shaking legs, some even biting their nails as they waited for the spelling to begin. The contestants, by contrast, appeared relatively calm on stage.
Nicola was the second speller in the round to go to the microphone when she got her word: Psyllium, defined by the bee as the seed of fleawort that can be used as a mild laxative.
“I got kind of nervous because I hadn’t heard that word before,” Nicola said after her turn, “so then I just tried to guess it.”
Once the moderator gave her the word, she asked for language of origin, a sentence, the definition, all the tricks used by spelling bee contestants that can buy some time and help them spell the word out.
It took about a minute for Nicola to start spelling the word and two seconds after she finished came the ring of the bell that told her she would not be continuing on.
Even though she didn’t win, Nicola did say she’s not giving up. She has a year of eligibility left and said she plans on winning the 2017 Arizona State Bee so she can come back to the national competition again next year.
Regardless of the outcome, she said, it had been “really fun to come” and “go to all of the events and go to the bees this year.”
-Cronkite News video by Veronica Acosta