As 10-year-old Jennifer Chatfield stepped up to the microphone, the entire auditorium fell silent.
The number hanging around her neck was 34, but she was among nearly 2,000 elementary and middle school students who competed in Payson's district-wide spelling bee.
The three judges try not to look intimidating, but it's no use. Every speller knew that one ring of their hotel-style service bell meant you're out. There are no second chances.
But this fifth-grader from Julia Randall Elementary School didn't need a second chance. She calmly and correctly spelled "suspend" the final word of Thursday's competition to become the district spelling bee champion.
"I didn't think I would win because I was competing against eighth-graders," Chatfield said. "They looked so big to me."
Chatfield attributed her spelling skills to her love of reading.
"I love reading any book, but especially books like ‘The Series of Unfortunate Events' and the Hardy Boys."
According to JRE administrators, Chatfield has earned 322 Advanced Reading points this year alone. This means she has read more than 50 books for the school reading program.
Chatfield and the top six finalists from Thursday's event will go on to compete in the countywide spelling bee in Globe Feb. 13.
The complete Payson team includes: Chatfield, JRE; Eric Pennington, Riley Parker, Jimmy Behrens and David Knauer of Rim Country Middle School; Paula Scott, Payson Elementary School; and Carlos Robles of Frontier Elementary School.
"I'm always excited to see so many students involved that are great spellers," said Gail Gorry, principal at Frontier Elementary School and district spelling bee coordinator. "It was nice to see the diversity of spellers who represent our school district."
Gorry said spelling bees are no cakewalk, especially at the county and state level.
"Students have to take the initiative and want to study the words," Gorry said. "The words all come from the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee Paideia 2004 Book."
Scripps and Arizona Educational Foundation sponsor the spelling competitions throughout the state.
Judges in the Payson competition were Town Councilor Dick Wolfe, School Board President Viki Holmes, and local Kiwanis Club member June Schranz. The moderator was Sue Myers, principal of Payson High School.