NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Maine spelling champion Lily Jordan had no problem handling the bright lights and big stage of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday.

Lily, 14, is one of just 41 spellers – out of 275 national bee contestants – who made it to today’s semifinal round after spelling both of her on-stage words correctly, and scoring well in the first round – a 25-word written test taken Tuesday.

“I am really excited,” said Lily, who made it to the national competition last year but didn’t get past the preliminary rounds. “I’ve never done this before.”

The eighth-grade Cape Elizabeth Middle School student walked to the microphone twice Wednesday, correctly spelling “egregious” in the morning round and “Nostradamus” in the afternoon.
She missed just two words on the written test. Contestants who missed more than two words on the test or either of the on-stage words failed to make the semifinals.

The 98th speller in the first round, Lily asked for a definition of “egregious,” said the word again, then did a little practice spelling by pretending to write on her hand. She then calmly spelled the word and walked back to her chair to the applause of the crowd.

Afterward, Lily said she was “pretty nervous” as she approached the microphone, but was relieved and happy to correctly spell the word, one she knew well. It is an adjective with definitions that include “remarkable for good quality,” “conspicuous for bad quality or taste,” “extraordinary” and “extreme,” according to the bee’s official Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.

In the afternoon round, Lily seemed to have little problem tackling “Nostradamus,” a word meaning one who professes to foretell future events, taken from the name of a French physician and astrologer who died in 1566.

Lily said later that she knew the word as soon as she heard it, especially with the number of recent references to the end of the world in news stories about predictions that the “rapture” would occur May 21.

The national contest culminates tonight with a championship final broadcast live on ESPN from 8:30 to 10 p.m. This morning, 41 competitors will take the stage for the semifinals, televised from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN, during which a single misspelled word knocks the speller out.

The bee’s location is new this year. Instead of being held in a downtown Washington hotel, as it has for a number of years, the competition is being staged at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., about 15 minutes outside of Washington.

Lily earned her way to the National Spelling Bee by winning the Maine State Spelling Bee, which was sponsored by NextGen and hosted by MaineToday Media Inc., which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective websites.

The Press Herald is sponsoring Lily in the national competition.

The 2011 winner will receive an array of prizes, including $30,000 from the main sponsor of the bee, the E.W. Scripps Co., as well as a $25,000 U.S. savings bond from Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher.

Cash prizes also are awarded to other finalists, including $12,500 for second place and $7,500 for third place.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:
[email protected]