The spelling bee rules are clear: There can be only one.
But after more than 60 rounds of the Jackson County Spelling Bee in Missouri and more than 70 rounds in the DeKalb County Spelling Bee in Illinois over the weekend, there are still no winners.
In each of the Saturday competitions, two contestants remain after their grueling duels stretched on for hours. Each pair was tentatively set for rematches in two weeks to determine who will head to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
In Kansas City, Mo., Sophia Hoffman, 11, and Kush Sharma, 13, were so good at spelling that the competition’s judges ran out of words to give them.
Among the words they got right? “Mahout” (which is an elephant driver); “scherzo” (a type of music); “barukhzy” (an Afghan hound); and “fantoccini” (a puppet show).
“Some of these words I literally don’t even know how to say, and I have a master’s degree,” Anna Francesca Garcia, a co-coordinator for the bee, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
Organizers said Sophia was particularly worried about “schadenfreude” -- right before she spelled it correctly.
Schadenfreude is the emotion of feeling joy from an enemy’s suffering, and there appeared to be none at Saturday’s competition in Kansas City, organizers said.
The 9 a.m. event began with 23 other spellers, who were all eliminated in two hours and then began to cheer for Kush and Sophia as they battled into the afternoon.
“This entire time they were extremely supportive of each other," Mary Olive Thompson, a library outreach manager for the Kansas City Public Library, said of the pair.
The organizers started with a list of prepared words from Scripps, but then had to turn to the dictionary when Kush and Sophia were unable to beat each other.
‘“It was like watching a tennis match going back and forth,” Thompson said.
The battle had been going on for more than four hours when organizers decided to halt the competition to make sure the words they used from the dictionary would be equally difficult for each contestant.
“If I had my way, it would be great to send both of them as Jackson County Spelling Bee champions, because they’re both phenomenal,” Thompson said.
Such marathon sessions are not totally unheard of: The Etowah County Spelling Bee in Alabama reportedly went for 79 rounds before Joshua Kelley claimed the championship.
On Saturday, a similar battle stretched out for hours in DeKalb County, Ill., as Matthew Rogers, 13, and Keith Mokry, 14, conquered obscure words like “trepak” (a Ukrainian folk dance), “issei” (a Japanese immigrant) and “weimaraner” (a kind of dog), according to the Daily Chronicle.
Over three and a half hours and 74 rounds, the crowd thinned out until only the boys’ families, the contest administrators and a local reporter remained, Amanda Christensen, the event’s coordinator, told The Times.
The duel almost came to an end when Matthew misspelled “punctilio,” whose definition means a small point of procedure.
And a punctilio is what ended up giving Matthew a second shot at spelling a different word when his parents appealed to the judges, who agreed that the announcer had mispronounced “punctilio,” Christensen said.
The event was eventually put on hold and tentatively rescheduled for a final showdown in two weeks. The organizers still had words to give the contestants, but things were just getting a little out of hand.
“They had been on stage for three and a half hours,” Christensen said. “They hadn’t had lunch. It was time to call a rematch.”
I-N-D-E-F-A-T-I-G-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y, indefatigability: That means tireless determination, but these students probably already know that.