OSWEGO — Lithe. Hawthorn. Seersucker. Hassock. Daffodil. Capricorn. Vibrato. Bequeath. Petunia. Gristle. Feldspar. Hydraulic. And macaroni.
These were some of the misspelled words disqualifying contestants in the Regional Final of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Saturday morning at Oswego High School, an event producing intense moments on stage and sighs of relief and disbelief in a crowd of nervous, head-scratching family members and friends.
Twenty-five contestants, from fourth grade to eighth grade, stepped to the microphone under the lights and spelled words of varying length, difficulty and countries of origin. Children confidently asked for repeated pronunciations, etymologies and to hear perplexing homonyms in complete sentences.
Sydney DeLapp, a fifth-grader at Kingsford Park Elementary School, designated number 13, edged out the competition after 13 rounds.
Jon Spaulding, publisher of The Palladium-Times, a key sponsor to the event, said afterward it was the longest and most competitive regional final in several years.
The winning word: "Bratwurst."
DeLapp will head to Washington, D. C. in May to face nearly 300 spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She will be the 25th area student to compete nationally, with Oswego hosting a regional final every year since 1991.
DeLapp said this was her second time in the regional final; last time, she misspelled "leotard," but says she'll never forget how to spell it again.
To prepare, DeLapp and several other students said they used an app on their phones or tablets allowing them to spell and sound out words.
Asked what she does in her spare time, when not spelling, DeLapp said she "climbs ropes, trees, rocks, and rides a bike."
"She did all her studying with her mom, [Theresa]" said her father John DeLapp after the competition.
Asked if he could spell all the words his daughter had to in order to win, Mr. DeLapp smiled and said, "Not with the confidence she had."
Runner-up was Leighton Elementary School sixth-grader Ava Cloonan, a spelling bee veteran since third grade.
Cloonan, who finished fourth last year, said her hobbies include dancing, basketball, piano, acting and singing, but between homework and activities she truly enjoys spelling.
"I actually like doing it," said Cloonan with a smile, adding she'll be back next year and will continue reviewing a big binder of common spelling bee words prepared by her and her mother.
Third-place finisher Matt Caraccioli said he had "a secret weapon."
"I watched YouTube videos of old spelling bees," said Caraccioli after the event, so he was well prepared for words like "wikiwiki" and "oolong."
Caraccioli — like Oswego Middle School seventh-grader Alexandria Delfino, who had the added pressure of being first to spell each round — used a visual aid, spelling out some words by tracing a finger along his palm.
The only word he spelled wrong: "Rhinoceros."
Rounding out the top five were Alyssa Lee, an eighth-grader at Oswego Middle School who came in fifth last year, and Mia Fierro, a fourth-grader at Kingsford Park Elementary, who thoughtfully made her way through deceptively tough words like "geoponics."
The top five all earned bank cards between $50 and $100, with Caraccioli also earning a year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica's online student edition and Cloonan winning a Merriam-Webster dictionary and a runner-up engraved plaque.
DeLapp, in addition to a $100 gift card, dictionary, and the champion's cup, was awarded an all-expense paid trip for herself and a guest to the nation's capital to compete against other regional winners in the National Spelling Bee, which starts May 24.
"We get to root for somebody in the national bee every year for the last 25 years," said two-time winner Robert O'Brien.
O'Brien said competing takes talent, skill, dedication, drive and enthusiasm.
"All the things that will serve them well in education and their lives," he said.