WASHINGTON – Megan Lavergne took a few deep breaths and said a prayer before stepping to the microphone Wednesday to slowly spell “daffodil.”
“It was nerve-wracking. My heart was throbbing,” recalled the 12-year-old from Lafayette. “I’m not really good at being calm.”
The seventh-grader from Carencro Catholic School calmly handled that word and another one later — ‘‘oberek,” a lively Polish dance.
But it wasn’t enough for Megan to make the semifinals. Other spellers scored higher on an earlier written test, which kept her from becoming one of the 49 spellers who survived to compete Thursday.
Still, Megan said, “It’s a real honor to be up there.”
Megan was one of five Louisiana spellers — all girls — competing in the national contest. Naysa Modi, 9, of Monroe, Rosie Shultz, 10, of Ruston, Abhirami Jeyaseelan, 12, of Baton Rouge, and Tien Thuy Nguyen, 12, of New Orleans, also earned a spot in the contest.
None advanced to Thursday’s semifinals.
This year’s bee began Tuesday with 283 spellers ranging in age from 9 to 15. Cameron Keith of Longmont, Colorado, who turned 9 in March, was this year’s youngest competitor. Vanya Shivashankar, an eighth-grader at California Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas, is making her fifth try at the championship.
In addition to an engraved trophy, this year’s champion will receive $35,000, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, a complete reference library and other prizes.
ESPN2 will show the semifinals live beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday. The finals air on ESPN beginning at 8 p.m. that day.
This is the third consecutive year spellers must answer vocabulary and spelling questions on the bee’s written tests.
Megan acquired useful tips for the competition by reading a book written by a former winner of the national bee.
But nothing prepared her for the bright lights of the national stage. Cameras clicked. Television cameras zoomed in.
“It can be nerve-wracking, but also fun,” she said.
After arriving in Washington, Megan found time to go swimming, and she and her family visited Mount Vernon and other landmarks.
Meagan’s mother, Karen, said she and her husband, Fred, left the studying decisions up to her.
“We haven’t pushed her through any of this,” said Karen Lavergne.
Around competition time, Megan says she steps up her intake of fish and nuts because they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids.
“They’re brain food,” she said. She dined on fried cod for lunch before correctly spelling “oberek,” in the bee’s third round.
Contact Deborah Barfield Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @gannett.com