MATTOON -- A couple of middle-schoolers made it to the 10th round before "pestiferous," an adjective meaning harboring infection and disease, decided Nate Huddleston's first place victory Wednesday.
"That one was a hard one," Nate said of the word. "I just had to sound it out."
And, it was a win the 13-year-old student had been anxious for.
Nerves were high for many of the contestants. After each successfully spelled words, students were often breathing a large sigh of relief and wincing when they realized they misspelled a word.
This only intensified after each round. So, when he got his first chance at the top spot, his reaction was understandably fatigue.
"Oh, come on," Nate blurted in exhaustion when he found out he needed to answer two in a row before solidifying a win. It was a rule he did not remember from previous attempts in the competition.
Before confirming his first place spot with "pestiferous," Nate correctly spelled "expeditionaries."
Nate and second place winner Kate Hampton, 13, had gone through several rounds, a couple of which Nate had made it to a confirmation round. Each of those instances, Nate was briefly thwarted by words like "clandestine."
Nate said he was just glad he did not get words like "Ichthyosaurus," a Jurassic-era dolphin-like fish.
"I think they get harder and harder each year," he said. "Last year and the year before that, it took a lot longer. The words were a lot harder this year."
Last year, the Mattoon spelling bee ended after 20 rounds, one of the longest of the spelling contests, Debbie Seaman, Mattoon bee organizer, could recall.
This year's bee was on its way to following a similar pattern. Words progressively got more intricate and obscure for the several vying for the alternate spot, pushing the bee to the 14th round this year.
This year's swath of words proved challenging early on for the middle-schoolers. Early in the competition, words turned from words like "dew" to trickier words like "hoarsely."
Most of the group was taken out in the third and fourth round. Only 10 made it to the fifth round.
"Hermetically," an adverb meaning in a manner to prevent entry or change, tripped up Kate in the final found in her attempt at first. Kate said that was easily her most challenging word, but saw this year's slate of words as similar to previous years.
This is the second time Kate made it into the second place spot. She has competed in the Mattoon bee for three years and got second her first time in the competition.
While Nate has made it into the Mattoon spelling competition in the past, this will be the first he has gotten the top spot let alone place.
Chase Armstrong took third this year. Hannah Stroud fought for the alternate spot.
The top three will be going to the Coles County Spelling Bee at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Fred Hash Gym in the Mattoon Middle School with Stroud attending as a stand-in should one of the others not be able to compete.