Thirteen-year-old Eric Gunter spelled his way to a w-i-n at the 2013 Lincoln County Schools Spelling Bee last week.
The room was silent at First Baptist Church in Lincolnton as a West Lincoln Middle student worked his way through the correct spelling of the championship-winning word — alleviate.
Gunter, an eighth-grader, was confident throughout the 11 rounds of the competition and quickly responded to each word he was given.
Participants were winners from their schools’ bees and came together to identify the best local speller.
Contestants took turns spelling congratulations, cauliflower, Sputnik and other vocabulary terms that had some parents raising their brows and unsure of what the correct spelling was.
Nodding their heads in unison with every letter their children said aloud, proud family members gave thumbs-up signs to those who made it to the next round, while others comforted those who didn’t from across the room.
Judges Billy Marsh, Lee O’Neal and Belinda Branson sided unanimously together on which answers were correct and those that weren’t, as area elementary and middle school children battled it out for the chance to move on to the regional competition in February. Jennifer Sackett served as the pronouncer.
Khari Johnson, a fifth-grader at Rock Springs Elementary, finished in second place, followed by the only female competitor to make it to the end — Michaelyn Palmer of Pumpkin Center Intermediate. Palmer, Johnson and Gunter went head-to-head for a few rounds, leaving the audience unsure as to who was the strongest of the three.
Practicing every day and “just trying his best” were Gunter’s keys to triumph this year, while the runner-up was given mock tests by his mother and focused on taking his time.
“Don’t be afraid to be slow,” Johnson told the Times-News on Friday.
The 10-year-old broke the tension near the end of the contest, as he proudly gave the audience both spellings of “taboo” before quickly heading back to his seat. This was Johnson’s first time in the county competition, making it to third place at his school last year.
All participants received a pocket-sized dictionary and a certificate.
Gunter will now set his sights on competing against winners from neighboring counties in the 59th Charlotte Observer Regional Spelling Bee next month.