Bryan Keck expressed mixed emotions Saturday morning at Clarke University after he won his second straight TH Media Regional Spelling Bee.
His winning word: "mukhtar," an Arabic word for the head of the local government of a town.
On one hand, he will head to Washington, D.C. for the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 22-28, where this time he hopes to reach the semifinals.
On the other, Keck's victory required him to outlast two fellow eighth-graders from Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School -- Brian Day and Jackson Viertel, who finished second and third, respectively.
"I've been in their shoes," Keck said. "It's a really terrible feeling to go out after you've worked so hard."
Day thought it was a pretty even match against his schoolmates.
"But (Keck) won last year, so he probably had an edge," said Day, who missed on the word "rasgado."
Viertel, a second-place finisher the last two years, looked almost unbeatable in the early rounds, spelling the words almost before the pronouncer finished pronouncing them. But he rushed just a little bit with "Hemerocallis," and there were gasps in the audience.
"You can only do so much," he said, showing poise afterward. "I probably didn't study enough. I cram a lot right before the meet."
Twenty-seven spellers from around the tri-state area competed in the 29th annual event, sponsored by Dubuque Bank & Trust and Clarke.
Four spellers were eliminated in the first round, and by the sixth, only 10 were left. Among the final 10 were Sharik Khan, of Eleanor Roosevelt, a third-place finisher last year, and cousins Max Schumacher, of Jefferson Middle School, and Zach Ehrler, of Galena (Ill.) Middle School.
Almost two hours into the bee, five students were left. Judges conferred and decided to use tougher words.
Ava Hoelscher, a sixth-grader at Mazzuchelli Middle School, missed on "contrapuntal" in Round 17, and Jillian Fisher, a six-grader at Tri-State Christian School, misspelled "mihrab" in the next round, leaving the three schoolmates.
Round after round they went, quickly spelling words like "cynosure," "punctilio" and "philhellenism."
Finally, in Round 28, Viertel missed his word, which was followed closely by Day's miss.
Keck spelled "springerle" in Round 29 and finished it off with his winning word more than two hours after the bee had begun.
"I definitely thought this was the most nerve-wracking year," said Keck, who studied more than two hours per night in the weeks leading up to the bee. "This was my last year of eligibility so it was a do-or-die thing. I've failed at this before and I knew that this could be it."
At last year's national meet, Keck spelled both of his words right during that round, but didn't do well enough on the computerized spelling/multiple-choice vocabulary test to be among the 48 semifinalists.
Meanwhile, Keck and his two Roosevelt classmates will always remember their bee battles.
"I've gone up against them in previous years and they're very talented spellers," Keck said. "I knew they'd be tough competition."
Source: Telegraph Herald
Spelling bee by the numbers
27: Number of competitors