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6-year-old speller leaves bee in second round

Evan Vucci | AP
Evan Vucci | AP
Six-year-old Lori Anne Madison, of Woodbridge, Va., the youngest contestant in the history of the National Spelling Bee, reaches for the microphone during the second round on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in Oxon Hill, Md.
By Jeremy Borden, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Clad in white pants and a pink shirt, Lori Anne Madison wiped her hands and walked briskly to the microphone Wednesday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor.

She announced her presence to the world.

“Hi,” she said.

Lori Anne’s first time on stage at the National Spelling Bee likely couldn’t have come soon enough for the bubbly 6-year-old who sometimes can’t sit still. She’s the youngest competitor in the event’s history, but it didn’t seem that way on Wednesday.

She asked for the definition of the word. Then she rapidly spelled “dirigible.” She got it right and quickly took her seat.

Lori Anne can be all business when it comes to competition. But her time in the spotlight was hardly over.

The next speller was ESPN reporter Samantha Steele (just for a bit of fun), who was asked to spell the word “slobberhannes.” Steele repeated the word, shook her head and then asked for some help.

“Lori Anne, any help with this?” she said into the microphone.

Lori Anne strode to the stage and heard the word again. “I think it’s a joke,” she told Steele.

Steele bumbled halfway through the minefield of a word until a bell rang, indicating too much time had passed.

But that was the high-water mark for Lori Anne, who bowed out in the next round after being tricked by an ignoble “i.” The home-schooler from Woodbridge, Va., started the word “ingluvies” with an “e.” (What the heck is it? Part of some animals’ esophagus.)

When Lori Anne was told that the “e” was incorrect, her eyes grew wide in shock. But as she made her way back to her seat in the back row on the stage, she accepted congratulatory hand-slaps from several other spellers, who understood what an accomplishment it was for the first-grader to be competing with them.

Paige Kimble, the director of the bee, thanked the young competitor for her charming addition to the event. “And it was close,” she said.

Vanya Shivashankar, a 10-year-old from Olathe, Kansas, achieved a perfect score in both on-stage rounds and the written test on Tuesday. The semifinal and final rounds Thursday will be broadcast on ESPN.

Tracy Grant contributed to this report.

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