It started with a burrito and ended with a machete.
Sixty-four of Howard County's best spellers between grades four and eight weaved their way through 283 words over 20 rounds and nearly four hours of competition Friday in a quest to become the county's spelling champion.
In the end, Bethel Christian Academy sixth-grader Lauren Smith earned the top spot at the Howard County Library System's 11th annual Spelling Bee after a 30-minute heads-up match with Audrey Lin, an eighth-grader at Folly Quarter Middle School.
Lauren and Audrey went back-and-forth as the clock passed 11 p.m. at Reservoir High School with each contestant having a chance to close out the other.
It wasn't until Lauren was back at the microphone with a chance to close the book on this spelling bee when her word was announced — machete.
"I knew the word, I was pretty positive I was going to get it right," Lauren said shortly after the contest ended.
With her victory, Lauren earned a $1,000 scholarship, trophy, dictionary and the opportunity to represent Howard County in the National Spelling Bee in Washington in May.
"I'm nervous, but I'm really excited," she said of competing on the national level.
This is the first time that Lauren had participated in the countywide spelling bee, and she acknowledged it was a little intimidating to be on stage with 7th and 8th graders, adding that she thought an older student would win.
"I just came here for the experience, I never really expected to win," she said.
Audrey received a $750 scholarship, trophy and a dictionary for her second place finish. If Lauren is unable to attend the National Spelling Bee in May, Audrey will replace her in the contest.
Throughout the evening, contestants from public and private schools and home school associations conquered the spelling of common words — such as burrito, pretzel and hygiene — and the more difficult spellings — like decuple, renvoi, and refocillate.
Friday's Spelling Bee, the 11th annual, was the longest ever, according to Christie Lassen, library system director of public relations.
Lauren's father, Richard Smith, said he was very proud of his daughter, particularly for keeping herself composed over the course of the lengthy competition.
"That young lady [Audrey Lin] is a very good speller also," he said. "They went back and forth. It was epic."
Lauren said she practiced almost every day — depending on her school work — in advance of the spelling bee, using practice words from the school competition, notecards, and memorizing the characteristics of words from different origins.
Participating students progressed from inter-classroom spelling bees held within their classrooms to a school-wide spelling bee from November through January, and then onto the library system's spelling bee.
Megan Rabe, then an 8th grader at Clarksville Middle School, won last year's competition with the word quadrifid.