Thirteen-year-old Maia Marshall pumped her fists at her side and smiled out at her family as she heard the announcer say, “You are the Nevada State Spelling Bee champion!”
With her correct spelling of “samurai,” Maia survived a tension-filled contest Saturday at Bishop Gorman High School and earned the right to compete in Washington, D.C.
The Nevada State Spelling Bee, open to students in grades 6 through 8, drew 34 students, the most in recent history, said the program’s director, Melinda Brown, who was also a judge.
Maia and Aarron Mangio, 11, battled it out in the final round with a volley of words like “duenna,” “oregano,” and “mystique.”
Aarron, whose sister Alyssa won last year’s state bee, was knocked out after spelling “staccato” incorrectly.
It was an emotional moment, as Aarron’s knees buckled and he began sobbing while the judges played back the tape to ensure their initial assessment was correct (it was).
Maia, a student at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, then spelled “samurai” correctly to win.
Maia said she and Aarron are familiar competitors, recently competing in their diocese’s spelling bee. “We just tied, and they gave up on giving us words,” she said. “We were co-champions.”
Brown said Nevada’s bee system is a bit different from those in other states, some of which have regional or county rounds.
“Some states, like California, are denser in population,” Brown said, “so it would be almost impossible to have a statewide bee.”
Brown said that while rural schools have struggled to support the bee in the past, recognition has improved in recent years.
“The counties that I do work with have gotten much better at getting the information out to the kids and putting higher priority on spelling and the bee,” she said.
On May 31 through June 1, Maia will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest in Washington, D.C.
As a former resident of Syracuse, New York, Maia said she is excited for one particular aspect of the trip to D.C.
“I love Friendly’s (ice cream), and my mom told me if we go to Washington, I can have Friendly’s every day we’re there,” she said with a laugh.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the school Maia Marshall attends.