By David Esteppe
Eastern Greenbrier Middle School (EGMS) eighth grader Shaylen Lafferty traveled to Charleston on Mar. 14 to compete in the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee. The 14 year old came in second place, winning $150 and a Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.
It is easy to imagine the pressure of an event where seven spellers went down after the first round. The second round took out another dozen. Six more competitors were out at the end of the fifth. After 10 rounds only four young scholars were left. The words “quizzically” and “undulate” sent two more out of the running for the title.
Last year’s champion Varun Kukkillaya from Kanawha County was the only competition left for Lafferty. Lafferty received the word “hygienist.” Nerves on high, she began spelling the word and left out the first “i”, but realizing the mistake she still had to finish the word incorrectly as once you begin a word you are not permitted to retract or correct. Once Kukkillaya received the word “requisite” and spelled it correctly, he became the regional spelling bee champion, and is on his way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, MD May 26-28.
While preparing for the spelling bee, Lafferty was simultaneously rehearsing for two Greenbrier Valley Theatre shows, participating in the All-State Choir and the West Virginia History Bowl. Lafferty says, “I had to do most of my studying in the car on the way to Charleston. Once I got to the event, I spoke with the other competitors and they seemed really well prepared. The experience was rather intimidating. It was much larger than the two county bees I was in before this one. I also found out once on stage that there wasn’t a pen and paper for use as in other spelling bees. I didn’t have the option to write the word before verbalizing it. I hadn’t been to a spelling bee before that didn’t allow that. I don’t use it every time, but it is a great thing to utilize when necessary. Seeing a television crew filming the event for broadcast upped my jitters as well.”
Lafferty hopes that she made Greenbrier County proud. She gave a shout out to fourth grader Cole Snyder of Alderson Elementary, who was also competing. She said he did great and the crowd fell in love with him.
While a little disappointed at not winning, Lafferty said she didn’t feel ready for the national bee. She is rooting for Kukkillaya and knows he will make West Virginia proud. She said he was only a point away from the semi-finals last year.
Lafferty’s mom, Lisa, says, “Not to be a bragging mom, but I’m going to be a bragging mom, haha. Shaylen blows me away. Every day I find a new reason to be proud of her. She handles her accomplishments with grace and maturity that you don’t often find in young people. I am so proud of the young lady she is becoming.”
Lafferty’s dad, Jamie, says, “Shaylen makes me proud as she is growing up so quickly and into such a caring and understanding person. She works so hard at everything she does and is one of the brightest and funniest people I know.”