But 11-year-old Allison Koontz, a sixth-grader from William B. Bristow Middle School in Brentwood, appeared to be taking the pressure in stride, as she accepted trophies for herself and her school after beating more than 100 competitors to win the county contest Saturday.
"I've watched the (Scripps) National Spelling Bee ever since I was in third or fourth grade," Allison said breathlessly. "So I know how hard the words are, so I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh!'"
She emerged victorious after a hard-fought spelling battle lasting more than 20 minutes with second-place winner Julian Carney, 13, of Dallas Ranch Middle School in Antioch. The winner had to spell two words correctly to take the championship at Tice Valley Gym.
In the dramatic final minutes, both Allison and Julian successfully spelled one word, then missed the next. Sometimes, they both misspelled the words they were given.
At the conclusion, Allison aced "abience" -- meaning a tendency to withdraw from objects or situations. Julian misspelled "mimetic" -- a resemblance that some organisms exhibit to the natural world that helps provide camouflage. Then, Allison won by spelling "chauffeur" correctly.
Allison will represent Contra Costa in the national bee May 25-31 in Washington, D.C. Julian and Caroline Bell from Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School will compete at the state middle school bee, while Andrea Ouyang of John Baldwin Elementary in Danville and Connor Asercion of St. Jerome Catholic Elementary School in El Cerrito will participate in the state elementary bee.
Kelly Xi of Hercules Middle School finished fifth in the Contra Costa contest.
Theresa Harrington covers the Walnut Creek area. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or firstname.lastname@example.org.