Evan Trieu of St. Brigid School celebrates after winning the Maine State Spelling Bee on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


To some, it’s a jumble of syllables. To those with a thesaurus handy, it’s a fancy substitute for “impoverished.”

But to seventh-grader Evan Trieu, the word meant something else Saturday afternoon: a Maine State Spelling Bee championship, and a ticket to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

A student at St. Brigid School in Portland, Trieu outlasted 22 of the state’s best spellers over the course of two-and-a-half hours at Bowdoin College’s Studzinski Recital Hall.

“I’m excited for the experience,” he said of his chance to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. “It’s kind of big.”

After five spellers, each a champion or runner-up in one of twelve county bees held in Maine this year, missed words during a nervy first round, the competitors began to settle into a groove. Rounds six through eight saw only one missed word, as spellers nailed challenges like “obediential,” “tepidity” and “cribble.”


Trieu, who estimates he studied around 2,500 words from the competition’s suggested list, including “impecunious,” wasn’t the only contestant who appeared calm and confident through the contest’s early rounds. But he separated himself after the judges deviated from the study list and challenged spellers with unfamiliar words.

“They just had to sound it out,” pronouncer Glenn Jordan said. “Those were words that they didn’t have a chance to study.”

“Sloop” stumped Abby Leger of Cony Middle School, before “balefire” knocked out Oceanside Middle School’s Izzy Choyt, who had previously rattled off the correct spelling of “abbess” without hesitation.

“Assize,” a legal term Trieu had never seen before, threatened to end his championship hopes. But his slow-and-steady style and habit of asking for additional information paid off, when an alternate pronunciation helped him figure out the word’s second “s.”

Andrew Zimmerman, third place finisher, reacts after getting eliminated during the Maine State Spelling Bee on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I was like 50-50,” he said of his confident level on “assize.” “(It was) definitely a relief.”

Knox County’s Adelaide Lock and Lincoln County’s Andrew Zimmerman rounded out an impressive final three. The trio survived four increasingly difficult rounds, nailing words like “grandiloquent,” “thwartwise” and “cavalcade.”


Zimmerman, one of the competition’s only sixth-graders, finally bowed out on “wushu” in the 17th round, one round before runner-up Lock left one “l” out of “ebullience.”

After Trieu capped his win with “impecunious,” he had one more task ahead of him: talking shop with Augusta native Brendan Doyle, the 1983 Maine Spelling Bee champion.

“You’re going to represent Maine well,” Doyle told Trieu after offering some advice ahead of the National Bee on May 28. “I think you’re going to have fun doing it.”

Trieu will attempt to become just the second Mainer to win the National Bee, after 12-year-old Sarah Wilson of Gray accomplished the feat in 1934.

“When I have free time, I’ll try to study and make sure I know all those words,” he said. “I might try looking at the dictionary, but I’m not going to memorize the entire dictionary.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: