The preliminary round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee — a computerized test intended to thin the field of 278 spellers — kicks off today, with two days of live televised spelling beginning Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. and continuing throughout the day on Thursday.

If you plan to watch it on ESPN, root for spellers 102 through 110 — they represent Maryland. Among them is Shaheer Ali Imam of Baltimore, one of only two third-graders competing. He’ll definitely be an interesting speller to watch over the long term. As a third grader, he has the potential to come back to the bee five more times! That kind of experience can make a big difference in such a high-pressure contest. And with highly competitive regional competitions, it’s also a rarity.

Another Marylander to watch is Jack Nolan, an eighth-grader from Howard County, who is the state’s only speller who’s been there before. He qualified for the 2009 bee, but was eliminated in the preliminary rounds. After a couple years of not qualifying, Nolan is ready to “bring it” to this year’s contest.

Since the National Spelling Bee began in 1925, a Maryland resident has never won. But there’s a first time for everything! (Shaheer, Jack, I’m looking at you!)