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Sissonville native perseveres en route to bee glory

Chris Dorst
Macy Ward from Nicholas County takes her turn at the microphone to spell a word during the 2013 Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee at Capital High School.
Chris Dorst Trinity Highlander from Monroe County pauses to think about how to spell the word "tarragon" in the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee at Capital High School. Highlander misspelled the word and was eliminated in the fifth round.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When it comes to spelling bees, it's always been close but no cigar for Lauren Coccari.

But after taking second place three years in a row at the Kanawha County bee, the Sissonville Middle School eighth-grader managed to outlast 39 other spellers Saturday to win the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee.

Lauren spelled "velocity" correctly to become Kanawha County's first regional bee champion since South Charleston's Alex Carter claimed his second victory in 1998.

Teresa Riffle of Jackson County came in second place, and Su Su Wai of Greenbrier County took third place.

The bee, held at Capital High School, was co-sponsored by the West Virginia Automobile & Truck Dealers Association and the College Foundation of West Virginia, or cfwv.com.

This was the fourth year for Lauren to compete at the regional level so finally winning the event was a little overwhelming for her mom, Stephanie.

"Oh my gosh, I cried when she got to be the winner. You don't know how many years, I mean, since fourth grade she's been doing these spelling competitions," her mother said.

"My heart just stopped when she won. I couldn't believe it; I still can't. I'm shocked."

After 14 grueling rounds, Lauren and Teresa were the lone remaining spellers. As soon as Teresa heard her word -- abysmally -- she said she knew she was in trouble. She swapped an "i" for the "y," leaving the door open for Lauren to snag the victory.

Lauren proceeded to spell "havoc" correctly, but one more word remained between the 14-year-old and the crown. When she heard "velocity," she knew she had it in the bag.

For the last three years, Lauren and Kathryn Wantlin of Charleston Catholic have duked it out at the Kanawha County bee. And for the last three years, Kathryn has defeated Lauren, although both would advance to the regional. Each participating county sends two spellers.

Lauren summed up the regional championship with one word: "amazing."

Taking a slightly different approach to her training this year could have been the key to success.

"Normally, Mom gives me words and I spell them," Lauren said. "But this year I've just been spelling the stuff on my own, and then I would call Grandma Mandy on the phone and she would get her dictionary and then just give me words."

Lauren said she did not expect to win. Each time she approached the microphone, she just wanted to be spared for another round.

As the regional champ, she will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Lauren, her mom and her dad, Gene, all are excited about the weeklong trip.

Lauren said she has seen a little of the nationally televised event before, and the words "sound really hard." But she plans to keep plugging away at her training between now and the event, slated for the end of May.

After making it to the 10th round, Kathryn sat with her mother in the back of the Capital High School auditorium. The rivalry between her and Lauren has been a friendly one.

Although Kathryn was disappointed that she left out the middle "a" and missed "quesadilla" -- a word she swears she knew -- she was happy that Lauren won.

"I hope she does good in the nationals," she said as her mom, Shalee, nodded and smiled in agreement.

In addition to qualifying for the national bee, Lauren received a $2,500 college savings plan from the SMART529 program run by the West Virginia Treasurer's Office; the Samuel Louis Sugarman award of a 2013 U.S. Mint Proof Set; a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online; and a Webster's Third New International Dictionary.

For placing second, Teresa won $150 in cash and a Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Su Su, the third-place winner, won $75 in cash.

The regional bee will be televised by WSAZ's myZ TV at 1 p.m. March 30.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com.

Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave--Boucher1.


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