Following three-and-a-half exhausting hours of competition, which included 74 nerve-wracking rounds, two breaks and two appeals, there still was no winner determined in the DeKalb County Spelling Bee that took place Saturday in the theater of Kishwaukee Community College in Malta.
“Obviously, when we were running out of words on our list, it was really an epic battle,” said Amanda Christensen, the coordinator of the spelling bee.
The first speller eliminated was appropriately sent off on the word, “sayonara.”
Almost half of the competitors, who all qualified through their district spelling bees, went out in the first round, with Alex Barton, 12, from Genoa Middle School later being reinstated when an appeal determined that the pronouncer, Jeff Smith, had not given the correct pronunciation of the word “sashimi.” Barton was eliminated in the next round, however.
By the end of the fourth round, only three contestants remained – Matthew Rogers, 13, of Sycamore, Keith Mokry, 14, of Somonauk, and Cecilia Snider – all of whom had placed in the final three of the DeKalb County Spelling Bee in previous years.
The runner-up the past two years, Snider, 14, from Hiawatha Jr. High School, bowed out in round eight on the word “banzai,” placing third. At that point, it looked like the competition would be over soon.
Over the next 66 rounds, last year’s champion, Rogers, spelled “trepak,” “issei” and “weimaraner,” among other words, in a fast and confident, yet soft-spoken manner. Mokry, in a low, throaty tone, deliberately spelled words such as “hemerocallis,” “zeitgeber” and “tchotchke.”
After round 50, the judges requested a short break and the majority of the audience headed for the exits. By the end, only the officials, the families of Mokry and Rogers, and a few other spectators remained in the auditorium.
The contest was almost decided in round 71, the first round after the officials took another short break to discuss how to conclude the marathon battle, as they were running out of both words and time. When Rogers misspelled the word, “punctilio,” it looked like Mokry would have a chance to end it with the “anticipated championship word.”
However, following a quick appeal by Rogers’ parents, the judges decided that the pronouncer had never given the correct pronunciation of the word and Rogers was reinstated and allowed to continue on to the next round. After three more rounds, concluding with the words “orthodox” for Mokry and “cedilla” for Rogers in round 74, the competition was halted and both spellers were given a standing ovation by all of the spectators remaining in the theater.
At that point, Christensen announced that a championship spell-off will take place over the next two weeks, at a time and place to be determined, in order to crown the eventual winner of the all-expenses-paid trip to National Harbor, Maryland in May to represent DeKalb County in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“Really what I was most concerned with was the stamina of the children,” Christensen said. “They were fantastic, but there’s only so much you can do in one stretch of time like that.”
Keith Mokry’s mother expressed that it is a shame both boys can’t go to the national spelling bee, as they would both “represent the region in a great way.”
Matthew Rogers, who said he wanted to keep going even though he was tired, was surprised by how the competition unfolded.
“It’s really weird. It’s unusual to go a lot of rounds without somebody missing,” he said.
Mokry, who like Rogers was expecting to emerge the victor entering the event, said it was an amazing 74 rounds.
“I’m a little tired, honestly. I feel like either way it ends up, I’m fine with it, ‘cause I put up a good fight,” he said.
Christensen reflected on the contest and looked forward to its conclusion.
“This was fantastic. I am so impressed with both of them. I can’t wait to bring them back and finish it up," she said.
The spelling bee is sponsored by the Daily Chronicle and the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education.