They appear “innocent,” but the 16 middle-school age students who will be in Portland for the Maine State Spelling Bee can spell “magnificently.”

The also can spell “quotient,” “carnivore,” “gimmick,” sabotage” and “papyrus.”

The students, representing each county in Maine, will take on a slew of other challenging words during the state bee, beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday in Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.

Lily Jordan, an eighth-grader at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, is returning to defend her title as Maine’s top speller. She won last year’s competition by spelling “salmonella” correctly.

Lily, whose father, Glenn Jordan, is a reporter for The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, won this year’s Cumberland County spelling bee with the word “apocalyptic.”

She and 15 other students will compete to represent Maine in the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Their interests range from reading and outdoor sports to artistic endeavors and spending time with friends.

The winner of Saturday’s bee will receive a paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national bee. Trophies will be awarded to the top three spellers. Each contestant will receive an L.L. Bean backpack and lunchbox, a Kindle sponsored by NextGen, and a spelling bee T-shirt.

The Maine State Spelling Bee is sponsored by Maine Today Media Inc., which publishes The Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. It will be streamed live on the Press Herald website, pressherald.com.

The newspaper’s executive editor, Scott Wasser, said last year’s state final reminded him of an extra-innings baseball game.

“Instead of hanging on every pitch, I was hanging on every letter, waiting for these incredibly poised kids to hit a home run or strike out,” he said.

The words in the state bee will be pronounced by USM associate professor of classical studies Jeannine Uzzi. Michael Ashmore, grants officer for the Maine Commission for Community Service, will be a returning judge. He will be joined this year by Heather Davis, development director of The Telling Room, and Steve Weigle, branch manager of Portland’s Riverton Public Library.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]