It was a test of knowledge over nerves, wrapped in second chances, as the 23rd annual Regional Spelling Bee turned into a bit of a marathon.
The contest began Tuesday night at the Myrtle Beach High School Music & Arts Center with 47 students; five survived from rounds eight through 10 together.
Then, after round 10, only Allyson Baumgartner of Carolina Forest Elementary School was still standing for round 11. However, "encephalon" tripped her up, and the rules brought back the five contestants from the previous round, giving them another chance.
After a hard-fought war of words, Isabella Neubauer of Lowcountry Preparatory School had a chance to take the title, but she stumbled as well. She and Baumgartner battled neck and neck for several rounds until Neubauer finally pulled out the win in the 28th round with the word "fauntleroy."
Students representing 47 schools in Horry and Georgetown counties were competing for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be from May 29 to June 3 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., which is along the Potomac River just south of Washington, D.C.
Other prizes were to be had, including trophies for the winner and runner-up, and all participants received a yellow, bobble-head bee trophy. The event was sponsored by The Sun News, The Sun News Educational Foundation and area Optimist clubs.
This was Neubauer's second appearance in the regional event, having appeared last year as well.
"I'm thinking I know these words," she said, as the rounds kept going on. "The second time [Baumgartner seemed to have the win], I thought she was totally going to win it."
Neubauer said she's going to study more before appearing in the national competition, but she's looking forward to a special dinner celebration when they get to Washington.
Pronouncer Doug Smith, associate professor of education at Coastal Carolina University, said this bee went 10 rounds longer than any he has participated in, and he has been with the regional bee for 11 years.
Nerves were a big part of the night and could be sensed from the start as the contestants took their seats and eyed the audience.
Justin Roberts, a fifth-grader from St. Andrew Catholic School, was a first-timer at the regional level. He admitted he was really nervous but said he was prepared.
"My mom and dad would quiz me at dinner," said Roberts, better known to the audience as No. 25.
Mother Christine Roberts agreed that spelling had been a family affair, "but he also did a lot of studying on his own."
Spellers went by rows, marching one by one to the microphone. Those who heard the disqualifying bell knew they were finished and had to take a seat on back row.
Round one began with words such as sultan and caboose and claimed 17 spellers.
Roberts had a great run, tackling "borax," along with "hydrology" in round two, followed by "neologism" and "phenomenon." Round five's "kohlrabi" was his ultimate undoing, done in by a cultivated cabbage.