THEY SAY THE THIRD TIME IS THEcharm -- and Lauren E. Johnson believes the adage is true.
The 14-year-old from Point View Avenue won the 73rd Vindicator Regional Spelling Bee on Saturday in Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State University, her third year in the competition.
She finished fifth last year and seventh the year before.
"I studied hard," Lauren said, holding tightly to a trophy that seemed to be nearly as tall as she is.
Lauren said she used last year's bee booklet as a study guide and would look up any words she came across in her reading that she didn't know, so she would learn their pronunciation to help her remember their spelling.
Winning this year's bee wasn't easy.
The crowd had thinned considerably by the fifth round when only 11 spellers were left in the competition.
Toward the end
It all came down to the 30th round with just Lauren and Emma Shebat, an eighth-grader from Canfield Village Middle School going head-to-head for the final 19 rounds until Emma misspelled Zoroastrian, a word with which she appeared to be clearly unfamiliar.
Lauren, who had spelled every word given to her as though she had studied it moments earlier, stepped up to the microphone and spelled Zoroastrian correctly. It means "of or relating to a religion founded in Persia by the prophet Zoroaster, teaching the worship of Ahura Mazda as the source of all good."
To be declared the grand champion, Lauren had to go on to spell the next word on the list correctly. She had no problem with pyroclastic.
She said later that she had come across Zoroastrian during her studies and remembered it because she found it to be such an unusual word.
Emma was competing in her second Vindicator bee, as was Hannah Gerdes of Hubbard, a sixth-grader from Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley, who finished third this year.
About the winner
Lauren, the oldest of the five children of James and Sarah Johnson, is home-schooled.
"I was very nervous," said her mother. "It was her last year [pupils can't compete beyond the eighth grade]. She really wanted to go to Washington. She studied hard."
"We're going to Washington," said one of Lauren's siblings as they gathered around to give their big sister high fives for her win.
As winner, Lauren receives, among other prizes, an all-expense paid trip for her and a parent to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 31 and June 1.
"I thought you said you were going to cry if you won," one of her sisters said.
"I'll cry later. Right now, I'm too excited," Lauren replied.
She wasn't the only member of her family in Saturday's competition.
A cousin, Alex Sieman of Boardman, an eighth-grader at Willow Creek Learning Center Academy, went out in the third round.
"We wanted to be first and runner-up, but it didn't work," Lauren said.
"She came here to spell today," said her grandfather, Morley Sweet of Youngstown. He was proud to have two grandchildren competing, he said, noting that Lauren and Alex have also competed in the Soap Box Derby.
They went head-to-head in a heat two years ago, he recalled, noting that both crashed and didn't finish the race.
Lauren is in her ninth year of home schooling, having started at the kindergarten level, Sarah Johnson said, adding that Lauren will continue home schooling through her graduation from high school.
A special group
The children in the competition are in a special group of young people, said Helen T. Paes, director of community affairs and public relations at The Vindicator.
"Their good study habits, discipline and determination to achieve academic pursuits have brought them to this regional competition and each of them should be considered a champion," Paes said.
Lauren said she's renewing her studies in preparation for the national bee in Washington.
She'll follow her proven formula of studying hard, both on her own and with her parents, and looking up new words as part of the familiarization process.
It's worked well for her so far.
In addition to her trip to Washington and the trophy, she will receive a grand champion certificate, a $100 U.S. Savings Bond from the Rotary Club of Youngstown, a $100 U.S. Savings Bond from the Downtown Kiwanis Club, the $100 U.S. Savings Bond Samuel Sugarman Award, a copy of The Vindicator's "These Hundred Years -- A Chronicle of the Twentieth Century," a Webster's Third New International Dictionary and a floral arrangement from Burkland Flowers.

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