WASHINGTON — A trio of Nebraska students are headed to the next round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee after nailing their first onstage words during Tuesday’s competition.
Up first was Payton Smidt, 12, of Beatrice, who was asked to spell the word for an ecclesiastical prayer book.
Smidt didn’t need the language of origin or sentence usage before calmly and correctly ticking through each letter: B-R-E-V-I-A-R-Y.
Afterward, she chalked her performance up to reviewing the lists of words used for the early stages of the competition.
“I’ve studied them, and that was one of the words that I didn’t struggle with as much,” Smidt told The World-Herald.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
From minerals at museums to the “charcuterie” on menus, Smidt said she’s been noticing competition words at museums and restaurants around Washington this week.
It’s her first trip to the nation’s capital, and thus far, her favorite stop has been the National Archives.
Smidt’s ticket to the national competition came via her victory in this year’s Midwest Spelling Bee. A student at Tri County Junior/Senior High School in DeWitt, Nebraska, she is sponsored by The World-Herald.
She will be back onstage Wednesday to spell another word. Most contestants who spell two words correctly will be eliminated at the end of the day based on results from a written test earlier in the week.
Those not eliminated will compete in the finals on Thursday. The first-place winner receives a trophy and $50,000 from the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
In addition to Smidt, two other Nebraskans also advanced Tuesday. Both from Omaha, they reached the national contest through the RSVBee wild-card system started last year in an effort to address regional fairness concerns.
It’s an alternate path for those who don’t qualify through the traditional system and are willing to pay their own expenses and a participation fee. It has helped produce a larger field of contestants, with 565 spellers this year.
Immanuel Soh, 14, who is home-schooled, correctly spelled his word, “esprit,” on Tuesday. That is vivacious cleverness or wit, by the way.
Last year Soh also competed in the national bee, spelling two words correctly onstage but failing to advance to the finals.
Siri Doddapaneni, 11, of Brownell Talbot School, was the last of the three to approach the microphone on Tuesday. She correctly spelled “baleen,” a substance that grows in the mouths of whales.
“I was like ‘OK, this is really easy. I’m just going to spell it because I know I’m going to get it right,’ ” she told The World-Herald afterward.
Doddapaneni said it’s exciting to compete at the national bee.
“I can’t believe that I’m actually here, because I never thought I’d make it this far,” she said. “But here I am.”
Doddapaneni said she’s been meeting other spellers who have discussed their hometowns, schooling and “annoying siblings.”
And she offered some advice to future spellers who will compete in the bee:
“Don’t be afraid. Just go for it.”