Editor's note: The article includes corrected information regarding the participants in the Coles County Spelling Bee.
OAKLAND -- After 28 rounds, Charleston student Kaeli Stewart nabbed her second win in the Coles County Spelling Bee on Wednesday in the Lake Crest Elementary School in Oakland.
This marked one of the longest Coles County Spelling Bees in recent memory, local officials said.
“This is the longest one I have been at. I have been at seven of them now for the county,” said Melissa Wheeler, county bee judge and Oakland reading specialist. “Usually, if a parent or grandparent shows up 10 or 15 minutes late, they would miss the whole thing. This was very intense.”
Wednesday’s served more as a long, hard-fought rematch between Kaeli and Matton student Hannah Stroud than anything else. Others in the competition fell off within the first several rounds, but these two remained round after round in what became an “extremely stressful” competition, Kaeli said.
“I have been studying every day but I was still scared I was going to fail,” she said.
It was an almost identical scene to that of the county bee at the Mattoon Middle School last year, only this bout kept on going word after word. Back and forth, the two kept going up to the microphone confidently spelling each word thrown at them even when words like “corrugated,” “attenuated” and “tetrarch” came up.
“It was really ironic that it ended up being two years in a row,” Kaeli said.
They went beyond what even the bee officials expected they would get to. They made it to the 76th word, "zero," a word that threw off Kaeli and the audience of parents when it was said, before it was decided they jump forward to much harder words.
“We went from words like 'ambuscade' to 'zero,'” she said. “What happened?”
Wheeler explained the words start to revert back to easier words after so many rounds, so judges decided to skip ahead to the 187th word, “tortilla.”
“We decided we had to jump ahead on to some harder words or it would just be the rest of the night,” Wheeler said.
This is where hesitation started to set in for Kaeli and Hannah. The words grew more complicated, including words like “desperado” and “harpsichord.” Hannah said she was nervous at the beginning of the competition, but quickly became more relaxed after the first several words. That changed.
“Then I was terrified … as soon as they jumped on to that other book,” Hannah said.
The Mattoon student did not study as vigorously on these words as she had the words that came up in the earlier half of the bee.
Still, it looked like it might have been an upset after Kaeli spelled “fennel” incorrectly. She said that word really stumped her.
“I didn’t even know that was a word,” she said.
But, immediately after, Hannah misspelled “bratwurst.” Their back and forth did not continue long after. Kaeli spelled “buccaneer.” Hannah was off on her spelling of “ravioli,” and then Kaeli secured her victory with “amnesia.”
Kaeli said the words were more challenging than in years past. This year’s words were certainly shorter, but in her eyes, that is not always easier.
Kaeli will now be going on to the Regional Spelling Bee on March 16 in Decatur. Last year, she placed eighth in the regional competition. This time around, her sights are set on the National Spelling Bee following this next event.
Her tactics: “Study more and hopefully not misspell any words.”
Hannah will serve as an alternate if Kaeli cannot attend the regional bee.
Other participants in this year’s bee included Jace Canada, Abby Warman and Matthew Redfern from Oakland; Timothy Drake and Garrett Miller from Mattoon; and Emma Thomas and Brennah Gerdes from Charleston.