Breaking the spell
Austin Vickers victorious in hard-fought Eudora Middle School’s spelling ‘Super Bowl’
Austin Vickers wanted the word "pomegranate" back.
With it, the seventh-grader would have had a chance to win the Eudora Middle School spelling bee outright Jan. 25.
But after both he and his final opponent, sixth-grader Kate Dennis, misspelled it, the end was far from decided.
In all, the finalists swayed back and forth for a 13-word showdown.
Each withstood the hot lights of the stage and the rapt attention of the entire school.
Throughout, Austin kept with his strategy.
"I kind of say the word first to see what it is," Austin said. "If I need it, I ask for a definition, then I spell the word," Austin said.
As the bee rolled on, he correctly spelled the word "awestruck" then both he and Kate tripped up on "crystalline."
"This is probably the craziest it's ever gotten," Austin said.
Austin had been in the spelling bee twice before and had won it once.
Some students in the auditorium made signs to support the spellers and cheered or sighed alternately depending on how their favorite spelled.
One sign contained advice for a friend, "Spell this word right or I'll feed your cat chocolate."
Throughout the week, teachers culled the atmosphere for Wednesday's bee.
"It's the Super Bowl of spelling," eighth-grade English teacher Bob Sailler said. "For some of these kids, it's really the only outpoint of competition they have."
To drum up excitement, Sailler showed his class the movie "Spellbound," which chronicled a group of youngsters en route to the national spelling bee in Washington D.C.
Preparations continued the day before the spelling bee as eighth-graders had the chance to spell against teachers. The eighth grade eventually won.
"We try to emphasize how academic competition later in life can be monetarily valuable," Sailler said.
The preparations led to the almost sport-like atmosphere of the bee.
"The day before the spelling bee I studied as hard as I possibly could," Austin said.
During the day Austin had his friends quiz him on possible words.
"I was pretty nervous," Austin said. "I was pretty scared I was going to mess up and go out in the first round."
Sixth-grade English teacher Carrie Jackson prepared 200 words, definitions, and sentences for the competitors.
Jackson pronounced the words and she, Sailler and seventh-grade English teacher Paul Boone judged.
The competition kept all three busy.
"It was a marathon, a battle of nerves," Sailler said.
The bee pivoted back and forth, including a stretch where both missed the words "dispensable" and "mundane."
A correct spelling could have sealed the win for either contestant.
The pressure might have been too much.
Kate spelled the word "luscious" correctly before leaving because of an illness.
Her departure left the school with a spelling bee cliffhanger.
"Everybody was pretty psyched about it and hoping I would win," Austin said.
When Austin went to school the next day, the final result was still up in the air.
"I asked the principal, Mr. Grosdidier, and he said he didn't have any idea, so I was just sitting around waiting, hoping I'd find out soon," Austin said.
Austin said he continued to prepare.
"I try to remember all the words I've already spelled and to not get scared or I'll mess up," Austin said.
Eventually Austin learned Kate withdrew because of a scheduling conflict on the day of the county spelling bee, and despite pomegranate, he was declared the winner.
Austin will next compete in the county spelling bee on Feb. 25.