Rachael Katharine Cundey became the youngest Columbia County Spelling Bee winner in more than a decade in Monday's contest at Grovetown Middle School.
The 10-year-old South Columbia Elementary School fourth-grader defeated 24 other champion spellers from the school system's elementary and middle schools.
Rachael fended off challenges from two eighth-graders and overcame multiple missteps to win the title with the correct spelling of "rottweiler" after 23 rounds of competition lasting nearly two hours.
"I want to hug her for several reasons," Director of Middle School Learning Mike Lindsey said. "This was one of the longest, most exciting spelling bees I've ever seen."
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is one of the most recognized academic competitions in the country. Rachael will represent Columbia County in a regional spelling bee March 7 at The Augusta Chronicle . The regional winner will compete for the national title in Washington, D.C., on May 26-28. The final round of the contest will be televised live on ESPN.
Spelling bee rules dictate that a contestant must spell a final word correctly, after all other contestants have missed, to win. On three occasions, Rachael misspelled the final word that would have won the title.
Then, she had to sit while second-place finisher Emily Beall, an eighth-grader at Riverside Middle School, also misspelled two final words.
"I was very, very nervous," Rachael said. "I thought I would get second place."
Rachael's nervousness was evident as she often fiddled with the microphone before spelling a word. However, she remained cool until the crowd burst into a standing ovation after she spelled "rottweiler."
"I was so excited," she said. "I couldn't believe it."
The event had to overcome a few missteps of its own.
Bee officials inadvertently allowed a student eliminated in the first round to attempt another word in the second round, when he misspelled "interrupt." Also, Rachael's name was misspelled in the event program.
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