WEST VALLEY -- "Schnitzel" was the clincher for Candace Gibson Friday.
The Kearns-St. Ann eighth-grader nailed the word to win the 23rd annual Deseret News Utah Spelling Bee Finals at the Hale Center Theater. Gibson goes next to the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 30 to June 5, where she will compete for $30,000 in prizes."It feels great. I didn't think I was going to win," Gibson said. "I was getting really nervous and I thought I would pass out."
Indeed, the competition was stiff in the 21 rounds leading up to the face-off between Gibson and second-place winner Alicia Torres, an eighth-grader at Mont Harmon Junior High in the Carbon School District.
"She did a really good job," Torres said of Gibson.
Both girls, like the other 43 competitors, spent weeks studying thousands of words to prepare for the contest.
"We haven't had a whole lot of sleep lately," said father Brad Gibson. "I'm more than ecstatic at this point.
She worked so hard and it paid off."
The word whiz receives an all-expenses paid trip for two to the national competition, courtesy of the Deseret News. Torres receives $100, computer software, a dictionary and trophy.
Torres rehearsed just like her cousin, Ashley Blake, who represented San Rafael Junior High in the Emery School District in this year's statewide bee.
The girls used tapes their moms made from a practice list, with every word pronounced, then spelled for them after a pause. The tapes were rolling every day when the girls got home from school.
"She worked so hard," mother Dee Torres said of her daughter, who practiced two hours a day for two months. "We knew she was prepared . . . but you can't prepare for a dictionary."
Judges, deadlocked for three rounds with a group of nine flawless spellers of words such as "grandiloquence," deviated from the practice list and threw out words such as "scintillation," which thinned the pack.
Other top finishers were: Zach Taylor, 11, Morgan Middle School, third-place; Sara Drabik, 14, Challenger, fourth place; Alden Yener, 12, Mount Logan Middle, fifth place; and John Sikorski, 14, Ecker Hill Middle in Park City, sixth place.
The winners are among 45 of Utah's top spellers from school districts and private and parochial schools. The competition included students ages 10 to 14, but age doesn't seem to matter much.
One of just three 10-year-olds to compete, Rico Joseph of Belknap Elementary in the Beaver School District, stuck it out to the 11th round. Just eight other students lasted that long.