WASHINGTON,May 27 – Some fidgeted,some bit their fingernails. Others squeezed their eyes shut in concentration. When it was Laura Churchill's turn Wednesday,she stood still on the colorful stage,the bright lights focused on her.
Pronouncer Jacques A. Bailly said,”damascened.”
Laura paused for a moment,hands clasped in front of her. She asked for the definition – it means to ornament with wavy patterns like those of watered silk or with inlaid work of precious metals – and the judges asked her to pronounce it a couple of times. Finally,she began to spell.
And she got it right.
But it wasn't enough to send the 13-year-old from Abilene,Texas,to the Semifinals of the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“I was expecting this,I would have been very,very surprised to make it to the Semifinals,” Laura said.
For Laura,the free trip to Washington was enough of a reason to try out for the Bee.
“She really wanted to win the local Bee because she wanted a trip to D.C.,so it really mattered to her if she won or not. She was under a lot of pressure,” Anita Churchill,Laura's mom,said.
This was Laura's first time in the nation's capital. She visited the Smithsonian Institution and tasted Italian,Ethiopian and Asian cuisine with her mom,dad and older brothers,John and James.
Laura has been in four local spelling bees. Her first was in the third grade,which she won. She qualified for the national Bee by winning the Big Country Spelling Bee.
“We always tell her to do your very best,and remember that it's part skill and part luck,” Churchill said.
Keeping those words in mind,the Craig Middle School seventh-grader said she didn't do anything special to prepare for this challenge.
“I'm using word lists for Round Three and using word patterns of things that are common in different languages about words,” Laura said.
Laura embarked on her Spelling Bee journey Tuesday. In the first round,she tackled 50 words in a computer test with the 292 other spellers. Twenty-five of those words counted toward the spellers' preliminary scores.
On Wednesday,they spelled words orally,for three points each,in Rounds Two and Three of the preliminaries. Laura earned 23 out of 31 possible points. The top 41 spellers,who earned at least 28 points,will advance to the semifinals on Thursday to compete for the grand prize of $30,000 and an engraved trophy.
When she was sitting on the stage for Rounds two and Three,waiting for her turn,Laura practiced by “finger spelling” hard words. She kept hoping Bailly would call out an “an easy word that I would know” when it was her turn.
While Laura will not continue in the Bee,she plans to see more of Washington while she's here.
“This is cool because I'll have the rest of the week free,” Laura said.
On Saturday,Laura flies back to Abilene to a life of volleyball,cheerleading and piano playing.
The Spelling Bee Semifinals air on ESPN at 9 a.m. Thursday. The finals air at 7 p.m. Thursday on ABC.