The spelling bee at Irving Middle School in Springfield moved smoothly until its final rounds, which became a showdown between eighth-grader Webster Bray and seventh-grader Matt Derynioski.
Staged in the school's library, about 40 students competed in the schoolwide bee on Thursday. Students were selected to participate after winning classroom spelling bees. But only one could win the schoolwide competition and go on to participate in the Fairfax County Spelling Bee on March 20.
The winner of that bee advances to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, scheduled for June 1 and 2 in Washington, D.C.
"It's kind of a fun thing for academic kids. Kids that don't excel at other things, can here," said Irving Middle School special education teacher Ellen Glaser.
"We're absolutely impressed" with how the students did, said fellow teacher Heidi Pappas, who served as the word caller during the school's bee.
Students were alerted they had misspelled a word by the dinging of a bell placed on the library table before a panel of teachers that included Pappas and Glaser.
During the first round of spelling, 11 students were dinged out of the bee with words such as yearning, ferret, clearance, warrior, auburn, feud, satchel, laser, celery and lease.
During the second round, another 11 were eliminated by the likes of monetary, sashay, preliminary, versatile, enzyme, solicit, grievance, thespian, raspberry, prejudice and grammarian. Seven of the 14 students left after the first two rounds bowed out in the third to words like herringbone, millennium, zigzaggedness, lugubrious, supplicant, effervescent and cinematographer.
The crowd of 40 contestants had whittled down to a row of seven. During the fourth round, all but two students were eliminated with words such as lackadaisical, entrepreneur, variegated, incendiary and malleable.
Bray and Derynioski began their three-round spell-off with both correctly spelling quadrilateral and chaperonage.
"Spell duodenum," Pappas called out to Bray.
"Can I get the definition?" Bray asked.
"Duodendum. This word is from Latin. A noun. The first, shortest and widest part of the small intestine.
A muscle opens and closes the passageway from the stomach into the duodenum," Pappas said.
"Are there any alternative pronunciations?" Bray asked.
"Duodenum. D-u-o ... d-e-n-i-m."
Ding went the bell, sounding the failure to spell a word correctly. Bray was down, but he wasn't out.
During a spell-off, the two remaining students must spell two words in a row correctly to win.
"Spell Pompeii," Pappas said to Derynioski.
"That is correct," Pappas said.
Derynioski then incorrectly spelled resplendence, giving Bray a second chance at the school's spelling bee champion title.
"Spell elucidate," Pappas said to Bray.
To Derynioski, "Spell bereavement."
Derynioski's eyes looked to the ceiling.
"Bereavement," Derynioski began, but he ended by spelling the word incorrectly, leaving Bray one word away from claiming the school title.
"Nebulosity. N-e-b-u-l-o-s-i-t-y. Nebulosity," Bray said.
"That is correct," Pappas said. "We have a winner."
Bray said he was not out to win the bee when he began competing. He just thought it would be fun.
"I didn't really get ready. I just did it," said the 14-year-old, who despite his win is not named after the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
"I wasn't nervous. I wasn't trying to win, just playing the game."
But now that he's progressed this far, Bray is hoping to take it even further.
"I think I'll flip through the [word] pages every night before I go to sleep," Bray said.
Bray's mother, Rosanne Bray, said she knew her son had a spelling bee after school Thursday, but that he had not made it sound like a big deal.
"It's funny because on the way here, he said one of the words was 'spareribs,' and I thought, 'I'd want that word,'" she said.
Bray and other students winning school bees across the county will compete in next month's countywide bee at Hayfield Secondary School.