Nantz's competition included 10 other Harlan County students who each carried the honor of No. 1 speller at his or her school.
"You are all winners. That's how you got here," said Gayle Jurgens, who gave the introductions and reviewed the rules of the contest. The event, hosted by Harlan County Schools, is open to public, independent, private, parochial and home-schooled students who must not have reached their 16th birthday by May 31 or passed beyond the eighth grade on or before Feb. 1.
Though there is a maximum age limit, Jurgens said there is "no minimum," noting that three of the 11 students in Wednesday's competition were fourth-graders, including Jared Wynn of Black Mountain Elementary School, Tyler Cornett of Cumberland Elementary School and Jessica Phan of Harlan Elementary School.
To prepare for the contest, students were allowed to repeat their names after pronouncer Jeanne Ann Lee and spell them into the podium's microphone. Jurgens also explained to each that pencil and paper were available to write the words to be spelled out loud. That method, she said, is not permitted on the state level.
The first two rounds of the 90-minute match required the less intense spellings of the competition, including "studious" and "fiesta." By the beginning of the third round, five students were eliminated. But with words like "panic" and "dispute," the remaining six competitors sailed on to the next round, which brought a new level of difficulty but no eliminations. All words came from the 2006 School Pronouncer Guide.
By the beginning of the 10th round, four more students were eliminated, leaving Nantz and Harlan County Christian seventh-grader Hannah Gibbons facing off for the remainder of the competition, which included two more levels of difficulty that introduced words such as "serendipitous," "extemporaneous" and "pernicious."
According to the rules of the contest, the champion must correctly spell two more words than his or her competitor. Several of the final rounds saw misspellings by both students, but in the end it was "euthanasia" that sealed the deal for Nantz.
"It was like a tennis game back and forth," Jurgens said.
After each student was presented with a certificate from his or her school, Evarts Elementary School seventh-grader Taylor Bowman was awarded a third-place ribbon. A plaque to be engraved with her name and a ribbon went to Gibbons for second place. A plaque will also be awarded to Nantz, who was presented with Webster's New World College Dictionary from WHLN's Marybelle Morgan.
Nantz is now eligible to participate in the 2006 Kentucky Derby Festival Spelling Bee at Churchill Downs in Louisville on March 18. The winner of that competition may go on to participate in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., on May 31. If Nantz is unable to participate at the state level, Gibbons will be eligible to take his place.
Other students who participated in Wednesday's countywide spelling bee include: Joseph Rowe, seventh-grader at Cawood Elementary; Casey Saylor, eighth-grader at Green Hills Elementary; Stacey Johnson, sixth-grader at Hall Elementary; Bradley Long, sixth-grader at Rosspoint Elementary; and Steven Lee, eighth-grader at Wallins Elementary. Brianna Highfield, sixth-grader at Victory Road Christian Academy, was not present.