It was down to the final three spellers. They came from completely different worlds.
Each of them had navigated past 20 other contestants and a series of trick words, silent letter traps and of course, age.
Each of them united through one common goal: being crowned the Senior Spelling Bee Champion of the State of Illinois and all of the perks and privileges that went with it (that being $100 and a certificate)
Michael Kienzler had survived a furiously competitive initial round in the Local Area Spelling Bee and then breezed through the regional round in Menard County leaving him primed and confident as he set to go for the gold at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Making up the final trio with Michael, who was representing the small town of Athens, was Donald Dowler of Quincy and a woman who wished to remain anonymous.
All of them had managed to make it through a variety of words, pronunciations and definitions that included, but not limited to,:
· lederhosen (This was the first trip-up, ending the chance for one of the competitors who was vying for the crown)
· Escritoire (This difficult word took out several spellers as well.)
After an action-packed four rounds of nonstop, heart wrenching, tear jerking, tongue tying spelling that brought out a wide range of emotions including joy, frustration and confusion, it came down to the final three.
They were brought to the front of the stage, in front of thousands (ok, probably hundreds) for this epic final showdown.
The first word to arrive was derailleur, which is a French word from the mid 1940's that means...
"n. a gear-shifting mechanism on a bicycle that shifts the drive chain from one sprocket wheel to another" (Dictionary.com)
Both the unnamed female contestant and Mr. Dowler stumbled, which left the door open for Michael. He stepped up to the microphone, took a deep breath and nailed every single letter.
The crowd went wild. Mike's supporters, all of whom were located in the same section with most carrying purposely ironic signs sporting the quote, "Wii Lyke Mike", were practically beside themselves (ok, so they were clapping).
But it was not over. Oh no! To win the vaunted Senior Spelling Bee championship, one must not only spell the word that his opponents missed correctly, the champion must also spell one final word to clinch it.
As the judges prepared to read that possible final word, Michael remained calm and collected on stage, ready for whatever word they might throw at him.
Whether it be an old West Germanic word for reward (guerdon) or an ancient Greek word for lukewarm (Laodicea), Mike knew the championship was within his grasp. He knew that all of his hard work and constant training over the past several mont... ah, I mean wee... er, days, would not go unrewarded.
It was the moment of truth. The intensity was so thick you could have cut through it with a stiff breeze. The pronouncer leaned forward into his mic and said the final word...
Michael took his time and spelled it perfectly, solidifying his place in the Illinois State Fairgrounds lore with many other rather unmemorable spellers, ranchers, milkers and corn farmers.
When asked what drove his desire for spelling perfection, Mike answered, “My shoulder is worn out, so I can’t play softball. My knees are worn out, so I can’t play basketball. And my patience is worn out, so I can’t play golf...I’m reduced to spelling.”
Unfortunately for Mike's supporters, a repeat does not appear to be in the cards. In a Jerome Bettis/John Elway style move, Mike immediately announced his retirement upon being awarded his prize, allowing him to go out as No 1.