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Decatur speller breezes through first round

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Though she admits some nerves about taking the stage today, Lauryn Pugh wasn't fazed by the first round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Tuesday.

The 14-year-old from Decatur joined 284 other spellers in taking a written test of 12 spelling and 14 vocabulary words. Participants will spell as many as two rounds onstage today, and their scores from the test will be combined with those results to determine who makes it to the semifinals Thursday.

Lauryn, who has been working toward the national bee since she was in third grade, said she felt pretty good after the written test, which took her about 45 minutes.

“It actually went really well,” said Lauryn, who recently completed eighth grade at Holy Family School. “The first couple of words were words that I clearly knew, and then the next few I was able to figure out.”

For months, Lauryn has studied root words. That strategy worked and allowed her to puzzle out definitions of several words, including “plaudits.”

The hardest word to spell was tarsorrhaphy (a medical procedure in which eyelids are sewn together), and the hardest to define was hypercryalgesia (excessive pain due to cold), she said.

After taking the test in the morning, Lauryn planned to do some sightseeing in Washington, D.C., with her parents, Brad and Maggy Pugh, and 12-year-old sister Grace.

Maggy Pugh said the bee has been an amazing experience for the family so far, and a little surreal.

“I remember telling friends and family when she was in third grade, 'Someday she's going to get there,'” she said. “I'm like, holy cow, here we are.”

The Pughs said they were grateful for the good wishes and prayers from home. Some of that support will come with Lauryn onstage today, as she will wear a bracelet that was a gift from a friend and carry in her pocket two John F. Kennedy half dollars. The coins bearing the face of Lauryn's favorite president were a gift from her aunt and uncle.

Though Lauryn is well spoken and confident for her age, she acknowledges feeling nervous about the next two rounds.

“I know the words, but it's one of those things, I could get up there and second-guess everything I know,” she said.

But as her mother points out, it's quite a feat just to make it to the national level. Bee organizers repeatedly remind the kids that they have bested 11 million others to make it this far.

“We're enjoying the moment of being here and being part of this awesome event and something she's worked so hard for,” Maggy Pugh said.

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