With about 100 in attendance, 40 students in grades first through eighth, from about a dozen counties participated in the Southeast Missouri Regional Spelling Bee, sponsored by Three Rivers Community College and held in the Tinnin Fine Arts Center on Saturday.
"To me, the tension and drama in the championship round [of a spelling bee] is just as real as a 10-foot birdie putt to win the Masters," said Mark Sanders of Three Rivers, who served as the spelling bee coordinator.
Sanders, who provided the origins and definitions of the words as the pronouncer during the competition, joked how he was on the verge of becoming "stressed out" when it came to a spell-down between just three middle schoolers.
After Luke Voyles of Fisk and Elizabeth Campbell of Centerville eventually misspelled a word, Summer Johnston of Advance accurately spelled "homburg" to take first place.
Besides a free trip to Washington, D.C., for the national contest, Summer won a $100 savings bond and a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary.
As part of her strategy to sharpen up, Summer said, she eliminated "Facebook and texting" for the previous week and spent her time studying the dictionary.
"I was going for it, but I didn't realize I would make it so far," Summer said.
She explained how she became such a good speller to begin with in being chosen for the competition. "I'm constantly popping open a book," she said.
Elizabeth, who took home the second place trophy after getting eliminated on the word 'chipotle,' said she was still studying on the ride over to Poplar Bluff.
"It's a tough competition, especially with all the homonyms," said Luke, who placed third after leaving the 'H' out in 'spaghetti.' "[Summer] deserved it after getting the word 'junco' correct."
About half the students were out in the first round, including the three girls from the Poplar Bluff 5th & 6th Grade Center.
The event marked the first time in recent collegiate memory that area schools were able to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, according to Three Rivers officials.
The intent is for the Southeast Missouri Regional Spelling Bee to become an annual tradition at Three Rivers, according to Sanders. He said he would like to see more schools participate in the future, including public, private and parochials, as well as homeschooled students in the area.
"A spelling bee is a celebration of the English language," Sanders said. "We want to reward kids for developing and nurturing a love for crafting words from such a young age."