R-E-C-U-M-B-E-N-T. That’s the word it took for Nicola Ferguson to win the Arizona Spelling Bee. The 13-year old Phoenix girl, a seventh grader at Sunrise Middle School, out spelled 26 other contestants to win the state honors this month. Now she’s on her way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
Sunrise Principal Greg Martin, who watched the state competition on a Saturday during spring break, says it was a thrill: “As the rounds went on and she made it to the top 10 I started texting some teachers and the vice principal. Honestly once it got down to four or five students I really felt like she was going to win. I truly felt like she was going to win!”
Also watching from the audience were Nicola’s dad and mom, Chris and Christina. Chris says his daughter’s talent for spelling revealed itself in fourth grade, but he didn’t know how she would fare in this year’s competition.
After Nicola twice competed and came in third in regionals, he was afraid she was burned out. He wasn’t sure she had put in enough time to prepare for this year’s competition.
“I was in awe [when Nicola won],” he says. “I trust she can do anything she puts her mind to, I have full faith in her, but she didn’t put her full mind to it [so] it was just, wow how did she do that?”
With the higher stakes competition to come, Nicola is fully back in the game, studying daily, but prioritizing her homework, which she says come first. Her dad says he’s learned his lesson.
“It’s hard,” he says. “I get the Tiger Parent thing, but she’s her own boss and she manages her time. The way she did it was more effective than what I was suggesting and I really admire that. She did hit her way.”
Nicola doesn’t study in the manner you might expect. She does go over lists of words, but she also likes to learn new words and their meanings from the Webster’s Dictionary App and she loves to read. “I think just looking over the list is boring, because it’s just reading a bunch of words,” she says, “but when I’m reading through some books to get new words from there, then its pretty fun.”
No question Nicola is hoping to bring home the gold. When asked if she is competitive, she just grins and says, “Yes, very.” But she’s also looking forward to meeting her competition. “I think it would be cool to meet a lot of other kids like me who are pretty smart and good spellers.”
Nicola might just show her true colors when asked what she does for fun. Again the quick smile and then an admission: “I go on an educational website called Khan Academy.”
Set your DVR to record a broadcast of the 2016 Arizona Spelling Bee, which will air at 9pm on Wednesday, April 20 and again at 2am on Tuesday, April 26 on Arizona PBS (Channel 8).
After the air dates, watch highlights from the event at azpbs.org/spellingbee/2016.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee will be held Wednesday, May 25 and Thursday, May 26 in Washington D.C. Principal Martin is hoping his whole school will be able to see Nicola in the final rounds as they are carried live on ESPN. No question she’s already made her school—and her state—proud.