Third-grader Zachary Sutton outlasted 41 other students over 10 rounds of spelling at Pigeon Forge Primary School's (PFPS) third- and fourth-grade spelling bee Wednesday morning.
Sutton will join the second-place winner, third-grader Riley Franklin, in the county-wide spelling bee at Sevierville Intermediate. Madison Smith, also a third-grader, came in third place and will serve as an alternate in the county bee.
Students in the 14 third- and fourth-grade classes competed in individual class spelling bees, and the top three spellers from each class advanced to the school-wide bee held in the school's playroom.
Participants sat in chairs onstage, facing an audience of their classmates, teachers and parents.
The spelling went smoothly at first, then came the longer words, and the trickier four-letter words. Most spellers dropped in rounds three and four, and the audience became increasingly restless at every misspelled word.
Several of the participants admitted defeat at the microphone stand, slinking off the side of the stage in the middle of a word. One student was eliminated on "amigo," technically and originally a Spanish word, now considered a Spanish loan word widely used by native English speakers, and which has an entry in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
Finally it came down to the all-third-grade trio of Smith, Franklin and Sutton. All spelled confidently to that point, and Smith appeared to be a crowd favorite: The audience gasped in hushed admiration after she nailed "curiosity" in round five.
But Smith later faltered on "purification," leaving Franklin and Sutton to battle it out for the last few rounds. Both boys failed to correctly spell a word for a few consecutive attempts.
Sutton, all business, demanded sentence-use for his final few words. The more casual Franklin spelled quickly, which may have cost him the bee when he overlooked the "c" in "exception." Sutton capitalized on his next word, "garment," and put an end to the see-saw rounds with Franklin.
"All right boys and girls, Zachary Sutton is our winner!" said Bridget Jolley, fourth-grade teacher and spelling bee judge, followed by wild applause from the audience.
Jolley congratulated the top spellers on their academic feat. She said these spelling bees are important for students because "they encourage language development," for one thing.
"They also help build self-confidence," Jolley said.