MANSFIELD – Maggie Sheridan believed she’d make it to the finals at the national spelling bee last week.
The Lexington eighth grader knew this Scripps National Spelling Bee would be more challenging than ever before, but she had high hopes.
She was determined to place above 23rd place, where she finished last year, and then make it to the prime time rounds of the finals.
She did everything right. She studied daily. She spent hours flipping through national-caliber words on a program called Hexco.
Still, she fell just short of the final round.
Sheridan tied for 42nd place, just short of the finals, along with dozens of other students.
“I was absolutely crushed I didn’t make it to the finals, especially since that was my goal and expectation, but nonetheless it’s a learning experience,” she said. “I was confident in my preparation, and I worked really hard, but I just had some bad luck.”
Sheridan spelled both her words "dictamina" and “tribunal” correctly in the two traditional spelling bee rounds, but came up two points short on the written test. The cut-off score was 28. She scored 26.
“Maggie learned a life lesson from this year’s bee. Ever since we returned from last year’s bee, where she was a finalist, Maggie prepared diligently week after week, up until our flight to Washington last weekend,” her father Mark Sheridan said. “When she came up short on her written test score, which kept her from repeating as a finalist, it was a big disappointment for her.
“But she learned that life is not always fair. Things happen to you that you cannot control and cannot foresee. Also, you cannot perform to perfection all the time.”
Since the field of spellers was enlarged to 519 instead of 291 spellers. She competed against students from every state, Washington D.C., all U.S. territories, Canada, Japan, South Korea and other countries.
Until this year, contestants needed to win a regional bee to compete on national level, but in December, a change in eligibility rules opened the competition to 225 additional spellers. Spellers from previous national bees were invited to apply for "wild cards," which are given with preference to students who are running out of time to compete, and to local winners.
Sheridan received an invitation Monday, March 26, after placing third in the regional competition and first in the Richland County Spelling Bee and the Tri-County Spelling Bee.
In the past four years, the teen has won six of the 12 bees she's participated in and placed second and third in two others. At last year’s national bee, Sheridan placed 23rd as one of 40 finalists and 291 contestants, nailing the word "whirlicote," but later succumbing to “saccharomycete."
After elimination in her most recent bee, Sheridan followed the finals with paper and pencil in hand. She wrote down the words as they were read and spelled most of them correctly, including the second to last word.
Sheridan is entering ninth grade next year, where she’ll no longer be eligible to compete in spelling bees, but she’ll always value the experience.
“I learned a lot about the English language, such as how to decipher the meaning of a word through its Greek and Latin roots. I also learned a lot of fun and funky words and expanded my vocabulary,” she said. “Educational aspects aside, I learned a lot about success and failure and how to handle myself in both situations. I learned how to respect my fellow competitors and how to face unpredictability.
“I really loved competing and will miss it, but I want to stay involved in the spelling community.”
Sheridan intends to watch the spelling bee every year and would like to apply for an internship at the Scripps National Spelling Bee one day.
“What Maggie learned at the Scripps National Spelling Bee this past week she will apply to all of her future endeavors. We could not be prouder of our daughter,” Mark Sheridan said.
Outside of spelling bees, Sheridan participated in Lexington Middle School’s Academic Challenge Team, which placed first in its most recent tournament. She hopes to make the varsity version of the team next year.