Competing in nationals for the second year in a row, Lazenby breezed through the preliminary rounds and advanced to the nationally televised semifinals with the hopes of bringing Alabama its first title since 1974.
In the fourth round, which is the first round of the semifinals, Lazenby correctly spelled “cephalalgia” – meaning “a headache,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary – to advance to the fifth round.
There, however, he was stymied by the word “hortulan” and tied for 22nd place out of 278 competitors.
Lazenby said he understood the origin of the word, however was unsure of the spelling of the suffix.
He decided to spell the word “hortuline” earning a ring from the judge’s bell signaling both his error and and loss at the national title.
Because of age and grade restrictions for the Bee, Lazenby will not have another chance to compete in another spelling bee as he advances to the ninth grade.
Lazenby said the weight of that pressure may have had an influence on his final performance.
“I guess there was a little more pressure because it was my last year so I wanted to do good, but it was a good experience,” Lazenby said.
Still, Lazenby said he fulfilled some of his aspirations on the national level.
“It was fun because I made it further than last year and I was on TV and all that,” Lazenby said. “My goal ever since I made it to nationals last year was to be on ESPN, and last year I did not make it. This year I came back, studied harder and made it, so accomplishing my goals made it special.”
Lazenby’s prodigious study habits did not go unnoticed.
“He was very dedicated, (and) this is something he worked extremely hard at year round,” said Becky Brown, public relations coordinator for Opelika city schools. “He would get up early before school and study words, if he was on a trip he would study words.”
His studying and dedication paid dividends as, over the past three years, Lazenby won the past three Lee County spelling bees and the past two state-wideSpelling Bees.
This earned him two berths in the national championship.
His mother, Shirley Lazenby, also helped him study by quizzing him and said this outcome was just further proof of her son’s abilities and desire to succeed.
“Getting to the semifinals was so huge,” Mrs. Lazenby said. “It’s the kind of accomplishment that reflects that “working every day” kind of diligence,” Mrs. Lazenby said.
Lazenby said he will miss everything about spelling bees from going on stage to travelling and seeing new places now that his spelling career is over.
Well, almost everything.
“I will definitely not miss studying,” Lazenby said. “I’m going to high school so that’ll be a new experience, and I don’t have any long term plans, but I definitely will not be studying spelling in the near future.”
For the Lazenbys spelling has been their family’s pasttime
Lazenby’s parents have been bringing their children to the county spelling bee for 12 years.
Now, however, Kevin’s impending ineligibility means the spelling tradition has come to an end.
And yet, with Kevin being the only Lazenby child to go to the National Bee, the family’s past time ends on a high note.
“It was the theme of our lives. From fall to summer it’d be spelling,” Mrs. Lazenby said. “But now that theme of our lives is over ... and we’re just super proud of him.”
And yet, his spelling prowess and dominance of the region’s tournaments the past few years remains a testament to him and the schools he attends.
“He’s a great student, a great person and we’re just glad he made it to the semifinals,” Brown said. “He represented (the Opelika City Schools) and the state of Alabama very well, and we’re excited that he had this opportunity.”
To Brown, Lazenby’s steady improvement from bee to bee shows that if he did have one more year of eligibility, Lazenby would certainly bring Alabama its second-ever National Spelling Bee title.
“He could do it, I think he could (win it all),” Brown said. “But he represented (the Opelika City Schools) and the state of Alabama very well, and we’re excited that he had this opportunity,” she said.
Even though her son may not be entering any more bees, his mother thinks this experience can help bring Alabama the title another way.
“Now, hopefully he can be sort of a mentor or a leader to some of the younger spellers coming up,” Mrs. Lazenby said.