Brian Liu, 11, of Great Neck, competes in the Scripps National Spelling...

Brian Liu, 11, of Great Neck, competes in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

Great Neck sixth-grader Brian Liu got through Round 3 of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Tuesday afternoon, sending him into the quarterfinals Wednesday morning.

Brian spelled the word feral to advance at the annual competition, which is being held in National Harbor, Maryland.

Earlier Tuesday, he successfully completed the first two preliminary rounds.

Brian — an 11-year-old who's played violin since age 4 and loves everything Harry Potter — correctly spelled the word tinamou, a family of Central and South American birds, in Round 1.

The judge then asked him, as his second-round question, to define the word agoraphobia. Brian nailed the answer as a fear of open spaces.

The quarter- and semifinals are scheduled for Wednesday, and the finals for Thursday night.

Brian's biggest test Tuesday came when the judge asked him to spell feral, defined as existing in a state of nature, not domesticated.

The tension built as Brian hesitated and asked if the judge could repeat the word.

Then Brian asked for the language of origin (Latin), and requested the definition again. Finally he asked to hear the word in a sentence before giving it a shot.

"F-E-R-A-L," Brian said.

Then came the applause.

Afterward, Brian's mother, Shuting Peng, said, "Brian was very nervous before the competition, but when he's on stage he is less nervous."

His mother said Brian's friends and classmates from Great Neck North Middle School watched the bee and sent him messages of congratulations.

"He checked all the messages and felt very happy," his mother said.

The bee is no longer just a test of spelling: The second-round quiz on word meanings was introduced in 2021. Students are given a word and must pick its correct definition from three options. The second round of the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will be on word meanings, too, a bee spokeswoman said. 

Meanwhile, the competition thinned out throughout the day Tuesday. A total of 108 of the 229 spellers — almost half — failed to make it to Wednesday's quarterfinals.

Brian had qualified for the nationals by besting 47 other kids in an especially competitive Long Island finals in March that went on for more than four hours. He delivered the knockout blow there by correctly spelling Bolognese — the thick, meaty sauce that tastes so good on pasta.

Before the national bee began Tuesday, Brian said he knew the competition would be much fiercer there, with the competitors representing every state and some foreign countries. 

"I've been studying for two hours a night. I usually come home from school, do my homework and then study," Brian said. 

For the Long Island contest, he studied from a guide of 4,000 words provided to contestants, but the national competition can include any word in the dictionary and ask for definitions, said Brian Vieira, executive director of ScholarSkills for STARS, which sponsored the Island event.

Last year's Island champ, Safiullah Sajid, also made it to the quarterfinals at nationals, slipping up on the word psephomancy (a system of divination using pebbles or beans marked with symbols and colors relating to issues such as health and success).

Brian said he only realized his knack for spelling after winning the bee at his school in January. 

Vieira said he saw a strong sense of calm in Brian during the Island bee, as he held his own as the contest ran long.

"He knows how to stay within himself. That's very important," Vieira said.

Brian's mother said she sees her son's effort, but more than anything, "I hope he enjoys it and makes some friends."

Brian, for his part, said he's taking his mother's advice to heart.

"She said I should enjoy it, and not be upset if I get out, because [227] others will be getting out as well," he said.

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