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Test spells National Bee end for Sissonville teen

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Lauren Coccari has never been the best test taker.

In the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort, it turned out to be her downfall.

The 14-year-old Sissonville Middle School student made it through both oral rounds Wednesday, but her score on a computerized test wasn't high enough to keep her in the competition today.

"Well, I'm just glad that I got through the two oral rounds, but I'm just better at spelling on stage than taking tests," Lauren said, admitting she was a little sad.

Of the 281 spellers in the competition, 42 missed words in one of the two oral rounds Wednesday.

That means 239, including Lauren, spelled two words correctly, but for the past few years bee officials have used a format that has no more than 50 spellers advancing to the semifinals.

All of them took a computer test on Tuesday and could earn up to 30 points. Those who survived both oral rounds on Wednesday got another 6 points.

Only 41 students advanced. Each had a total score of at least 32 points, and several earned perfect scores of 36.

None of the four spellers from West Virginia made the final cut.

Spellers didn't learn their computer test results until about 4 p.m. Wednesday. When Lauren's parents, Gene and Stephanie Coccari, received her score, her father said they knew Lauren's chance of advancing was a longshot.

"The test was her downfall. She's not a good test taker; she never has been," her mother said.

"But you know we're proud of her," her dad quickly added. "We figured she would do well in the second and third round. It's been a great experience."

After taking the Tuesday test, Lauren had said she wasn't sure how she had performed. She thought the newly added vocabulary section was the toughest.

Scripps announced the addition of that aspect of the competition only seven weeks ago.  Bee Executive Director Paige Kimble said it would help advance the mission of the bee: to help students learn more about words they would use for a lifetime.

In a press conference Wednesday she said she had received positive feedback about the addition. She thought the vocabulary portion would especially help the millions of spellers studying for local competitions.

As the oral rounds started on Wednesday, "periphery" spelled relief for the Coccari family.

Lauren correctly spelled that word in the morning session.

"Yeah, that's an easy word that I know," she said moments after the round wrapped up.

The large screens flanking the massive stage upon which the competitors await their turn barely had time to show Lauren's name before she had spelled her word.

When she knows a word, she knows: while some spellers ask for the definition or origin of a word every time, Lauren just wants to spell.

"I do that on some of them, that like I know but I just want to make sure it's the one I'm thinking of," she said.

Her pattern was the same in the second oral round. She spelled "fuguist" with no delay, spending little time savoring what would be her final moment at the microphone on the big stage.

Wednesday was the first day Lauren admitted to being a little nervous. She was one of the last spellers to take to the microphone in both rounds so there was plenty of time to dwell on the competition.

"I was worried," her mother said after one oral round. "I was hoping she would get a word she knew. I knew she knew all of them, but sometimes when you're nervous, you missspell."

Lauren never revealed her nervousness. Nor did she show any outward signs of dismay that she may have felt after failing to advance.

"I mean, this is the creme de la creme," her mother said of the 280 competitors from all over the United States and its territories. "You can't complain really."

This was Lauren's 20th bee and, because she just finished eighth grade, the last time she could compete.

Before the bee started, her dad promised her a special treat when her competitive spelling career came to a close.

"Whenever we get to that point, we'll buy a steak. She enjoys that; she loves steaks," he said.

The family is considering a trip to Mount Vernon today but definitely plans to be back in National Harbor to see the end of the competition this evening.

Lauren's appearance in the national bee is sponsored by the Gazette-Mail, the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association and the College Foundation of West Virginia, or cfwv.com.

In addition to the all-expense-paid trip to the nation's capital, she won a $2,500 college savings account from the state treasurer's SMART529 program.

Lauren said she wanted to thank the sponsors for their support and to wish the remaining spellers good luck.

The semifinal round starts at 2 p.m. Thursday and will air live on ESPN2. The championship will start about 8 p.m. and air live on ESPN.

Contact Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

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