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FORSYTH — After four years of spelling bees and narrowly missing first place each time at the regional, Maya Jyothinagaram is finally going to be on the biggest stage of all in Washington, D.C. — the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“I just feel it's a good experience, and I want to experience it,” said Maya, who just finished eighth grade at Maroa-Forsyth Middle School and won the regional bee May 17 at Eisenhower High School.

In its 91st year, the bee takes place Tuesday through Thursday, May 29-31, at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Maryland, a Washington suburb.

This was her last year of eligibility for the national competition. Her younger sister, Anika, 10, has also begun competing in the annual spelling bees.

“I want her to succeed,” Maya said of her sister, “but it just matters to me that she tries her hardest.”

Maya is the daughter of Madhu and Lakshmi Jyothinagaram. Her father is a cardiologist at Decatur Memorial Hospital, and her mother is a stay-at-home mom.

“We're very excited,” Lakshmi Jyothinagaram said last week before the family left for D.C. “Every year she was very close. She would come in second and third and we were hoping, because this is last year she qualifies for this.

"We're getting ready for the trip, and we're all going as a family. My younger daughter, this was the first year she made it to the county bee, and we're excited for her to go watch the national bee. It's a great experience for her, as well.”

On Monday, the organizers will hold a barbecue for the contestants, and Maya said she thought there would be time for some sightseeing, too. 

Tuesday is the written test and a round of live spelling. Those who make it through those two rounds will move on to Wednesday's competition, and on Thursday is the televised finals on ESPN. The TV schedule:

  • May 29: The preliminary round will be shown on ESPN3 from 8:15 a.m. to 11:05 a.m. CT. After a short break, the preliminaries continue from noon to 4:20 p.m.
  • May 30: The second day of preliminaries can be watched on ESPN3 from 7 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. After another break, the prelims wrap up from 1 to 4:30 p.m.
  • May 31: The opening portion of the finals will be televised from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN2, while the closing portion of the finals can be viewed from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on ESPN.

According to Scripps, a record 518 spellers, 114 of whom are returnees, will participate, prompting the need for a third day of competition.

Spellers range from ages 8 to 15, and each of the 50 states is represented. There are 240 girls and 278 boys, and four third-graders are among those who have earned their place in D.C.

Maya said she just wants to do her best and she has been studying hard, but whatever the outcome, she's just glad to be able to go. The family visited Washington on vacation a few years ago, and she's looking forward to going again.

“It was really fun when we went there last time,” she said. “They have such nice museums and it's so fun to walk around the Mall. I'm excited to go back.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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