COEUR d’ALENE — The suspense was dense, the kind of tension that keeps people on the edges of seats, whispering and wondering, “What’s going to happen next?”
The judges emerged from a hallway meeting and gave Joseph Moran the instructions to spell two final words to claim his victory.
Cool and collected, he articulately spelled "backstein," which is a limberger-like German cheese.
Then came the championship word: "s-o-r-t-i-e."
Another correct spelling, and another win for Joseph.
"I feel pretty excited to do it for a third time," he said, beaming a triumphant smile as confetti streamers settled on the floor around him.
The Inland Northwest Christian Homeschool (INCH) seventh-grader made history Saturday when he became the first speller ever to win three North Idaho Regional Spelling Bees in a row. Aside from Joseph, the only other participant to win two consecutive bees was Christian Center School student Sabrina Smith, who won in '09 and '10.
"I felt pretty confident that I could last,” Joseph said. "I still didn’t know. I was confident I knew the words well, but still, I knew it could go any way."
The tension mounted through 22 rounds as 46 fourth- through eighth-graders from Idaho's five northern counties participated in the 16th annual regional bee. This year it was held in the Edminster Student Union Building of North Idaho College rather than in Schuler Performing Arts Center as in previous years.
About half of the students were out by Round 3 and 11 of the spellers survived to Round 4. The number dwindled to six spellers by the seventh round, then it was down to Joseph, Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy sixth-grader Ashlyn Craigie, Canfield Middle School sixth-grader Ashland Schnell and Joseph's little brother, INCH fourth-grader Adam Moran.
Only Ashlyn made it to the last round against the defending champ.
"I didn’t really want to win, because I’d have to study for nationals really hard," she said. "But I'm glad I got second place."
The spelling bee drama escalated when Ashlyn misspelled "verboten" and long-time word pronouncer Joe Jacoby began to give her the correct spelling.
According to Scripps National Spelling Bee rules, when it gets down to two spellers and one misses a word, the other remaining speller is to spell that word correctly. If he or she misses it, they both continue until another word is missed. If the speller gets it correct, he or she is given a championship word with which to win.
In the past, if one of the final two missed a word, then the other speller would be given a different word to spell correctly, then a championship word on top of that. Previous bee organizers were not necessarily following the national rules for the regional bee, but this year's organizers chose to conduct the event according to the Scripps rules, which caused some confusion.
After discussions between bee coordinator Kathryn Meyer and a few parents, as well as two private meetings for the judges, it was sorted out and Joseph was able to claim the win after spelling two more words.
"I wanted to make sure I followed the Scripps rules that they give to us because we’re regional, we're not local," Meyer said. "Once they go from here, then they're going, in a sense, to the big leagues, and that’s how they’re going to do it."
Joseph won an all-expense paid trip to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. at the end of May, covered by the Coeur d'Alene Press, which sponsors the regional bee.