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Colorado speller's first National Spelling Bee is also her last

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Posted at 8:27 PM, May 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-26 20:27:17-04

The stakes are high for 12-year-old Sylvie Lamontagne, who will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the first — and only — time since she started participating in the third grade.

Although many regional bees allow past winners to compete again, the Denver area does not. The national bee includes one speller who is making a fifth appearance and three who are here for a fourth year.

“There’s a rule that you can only come here once,” said Sylvie, who is still young enough to qualify, but can’t compete again because a rule in the Colorado State Spelling Bee prevents past winners.

“I want to enjoy this, but at the same time, it adds more pressure,” she said.

For Sylvie, of Lakewood, Colo., it has been a long road to the national bee stage. She came in 26th place as a fifth-grader in the state bee, and moved up to 8th place last year.

This year, the Creighton Middle School seventh-grader finally won the state bee with the word “sympatric,” which means occupying the same geographic area.

Sylvie hopes her experience in previous bees has prepared her for what’s to come.

“If I get a word I haven’t studied, which is always a possibility, I slow down,” she said. “When I started competing, I rushed too much.”

In one her first bees, Sylvie remembers misspelling the word “zigzag,” by starting the word with an “s.”

“Now I use my finger to write out the word on hand,” she said.

Sylvie’s dad, Jeff Lamontagne, helps her study the root of words and language patterns to improve the chances of making an educated guess when she comes across a word she doesn’t know.

“For me, this trip is about Sylvie. She has worked so hard and she only gets the one chance,” he said.

All 285 spellers took a written spelling and vocabulary test Tuesday morning. Spellers take the stage for Round 2 at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Those who spell their words correctly spell again on stage in the afternoon. ESPN3 will televise the competition beginning at 8 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. EDT.

At about 5 p.m., bee officials will announce the names of a maximum of 50 spellers to advance to the semifinals. They are chosen based on the points they earn for correctly spelling words on stage and their scores on the written test. ESPN 2 will broadcast the semifinals beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The finals will air Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN. The winner takes home $35,000 in cash, a trophy and other prizes.

Reach reporter Rebeca Piccardo at rebeca.piccardo@scripps.com or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.