By the end of the spelling bee Saturday, the parents were barely breathing.
Emily Laurore, then Marcus Huetter and finally Natalie Cummings made it to the last round. The finals began with 34 young people, but the words whittled them down, one at a time. After about two hours, there were 10 spellers, then eight and finally it came down to just the three of them.
Emily, 11, an eighth-grader at Coudersport Area Junior Senior High, was knocked out with "eschewal."
Marcus, 13, a seventh-grader at St. Katharine Drexel in Bethel Park, lost on "sociologese."
Then Natalie, 13, an eighth-grader at Canonsburg Middle School, drew "dynagraph." She spelled it right but had to go into the 14th round alone. If she spelled the final word wrong, Emily and Marcus would have another chance to beat her.
Natalie stood on the stage of the auditorium at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, clutching her stress ball in one hand with a piece of sea glass and the buckeye someone told her was lucky in the other.
Local documentary filmmaker Rick Sebak, the pronouncer for the spelling bee finals, called out her word "gobo." The smile on Natalie's face said she had it and then she quickly spelled it: "G-O-B-O." With that, Natalie was headed to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., to represent Pittsburgh.
Marcus has another year, but Emily, the youngest of the three finalists, skipped two grades so next year, as a high school student, she will not be able to compete again.
It was a long day of spelling for the finalists. Semifinal rounds that were made up of children who had won their individual school spelling bees started at 8:45 a.m. The final round started at 2 p.m. and lasted more than 31/2 hours.
Mr. Sebak, in welcoming all 34 of the young people who made it to the finals, tried to reassure them the pressure was off.
"You have no more worries; you made the finals. You can go to school Monday and say, 'I didn't ... win, but I made the finals.' Every basketball player from Pitt wishes they could say that," he said, referring to the University of Pittsburgh men's loss to Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament. The women's team did not make the tournament.
But if the spellers did not have any more worries, their parents sure did.
In round after round, as spellers were knocked out of their chairs by hard words, parents were there to put their arms around their shoulders and offer encouragement.
Scarlett Hudson of Sewickley was eliminated in the second round with the word "cedilla" then climbed into the lap of her mom, Newlin Archinal, to watch the end of the round. Ms. Archinal was so nervous during the day that her ring left a mark in her finger from wringing her hands.
Some of the finalists were truly phenomenal spellers, particularly considering that Qinzhuo Zhang only moved to Shadyside from Beijing with his family some 13 months ago -- he said he is very interested in language -- and Wonyoung Lee of Allison Park moved there from South Korea just eight months ago.
During the final rounds, the parents of the children on the stage could be heard to gasp when their children spelled a word correctly -- or exhale in disappointment when they didn't.
Guerline Laurore whispered, "Oh, thank you, Jesus," after her daughter Emily took a long time to spell "attrition" correctly in the seventh round.
And the Huetter family threw their heads back with relief after each of his correctly spelled words, except "wafflestomper," which he was clearly pleased to draw in the ninth round.
But the day belonged to Natalie, the girl with the stress ball for which she crocheted a cover in black and gold yarn -- not for the Steelers, but so it would look like a bee for the bee.
Natalie made it through "bituminous" in the ninth round, "reconcilable" in the 10th and, though she was not sure, she worked out "facticide" correctly in the 11th. After asking the origins of "blanquette" in the 12th round, she pulled that out to make it to "dynagraph" in the 13th and "gobo" in the 14th -- and walked out of the hall with a trophy, a dictionary and the trip to Washington.
Ann Belser: email@example.com or 412-263-1699. First Published March 24, 2013 4:00 AM