The pitch was a high, hard one; the kind that would buckle most players’ knees. But this competitor was unfazed. The 13-year-old stood steadfastly at the plate and turned on the pitch, smacking it right back at the pitcher.

“Kay-suh-dee-uh,” Lily Jordan carefully but emphatically enunciated before correctly spelling the word “quesadilla.” It was one of several fastballs hurled at her and 12 other youngsters representing their counties in March at the Maine State Spelling Bee, sponsored by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Jordan won that competition, earning the right to represent Maine last week at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. A seventh-grader at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, Jordan didn’t homer in that competition the way she did in Portland a few months earlier.

She handled a couple of tough pitches in front of a packed house in a Grand Hyatt hotel ballroom, correctly spelling “taipan” and “vacatur.” But she had trouble handling the curveball thrown at all 273 finalists, a 50-word written test that would have challenged the spelling skills of even Noah Webster and George Merriam.

Jordan and 224 other eighth-grade and younger competitors failed to reach the semifinals, which were televised Friday by ESPN. A competitive softball player, she has a steely determination to make it back to the nationals and into the semifinal round next year, her last of eligibility.

Merely having the opportunity to see their daughter compete in the nationals this year was a thrill for Lily’s mom and dad, Nancy and Glenn Jordan of Cape Elizabeth. Glenn, a sportswriter for this newspaper, wrote a touching personal column for Friday’s Press Herald about the trials and tribulations of watching his daughter battle in the bee.

Nancy told a reporter covering the championship, “Just being here was Lily’s main goal. It’s been terrific.”

Based on casual conversations with a few of the families, the sentiments were similar for competitors who advanced to the state final in Portland in March.

Who knows how many countless competitors each of the 13 children representing their counties had to vanquish to make it to Portland? Who knows how many hundreds of common and uncommon words they might have encountered — and spelled correctly — along the way?

What we do know is that all of the children who competed are winners. A precious few advanced to regional and county competitions that culminated in Portlandand presented an elite opportunity to go to Washington.

Only one speller from Maine made the trip. But each one who participated should take another bow both for their personal accomplishments and for representing their communities.

We salute and congratulate them all.


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