Programs rustled in the high school auditorium Jan. 23 as 48 students, their parents and classmates waited to see who the best spellers were out of three area elementary schools and the middle school.
Wayne Gorry, a teacher from Julia Randall Elementary came by to ask Aspen Bauer, Shaina Guerrero, McKenzie Creighton and Morgan DiFelice how to spell "hurricane" while they waited to go onstage.
The four friends said they were "excited and nervous," but spelled "hurricane" correctly.
Parents were beaming with pride in their children on stage.
"I am so proud to have Tristan in the spelling bee. I could not miss it," said parent Chris Johnson whose son Tristan practiced his spelling for months before the bee.
"Justice is excited and has been practicing words -- some of them I couldn't pronounce," said Michelle Owens of her son, who was in the bee for the second time.
The bee lasted 16 rounds. The aforementioned students did not make it to the seventh round, by which time 41 students had missed their words.
Circulate, fortress, patriotism, immortal, exotic, vegetarian and balcony were spelled correctly by Jacquelyn Oesterblad, Elizabeth Romberger, Brandon Rothwell, Austin Conway, Emily Price, Levi Sopeland and (middle school alternate) Les Buce.
"Anchovy," "latency" and "cylindrical" eliminated Buce, Conway and Price in the next two rounds. The word, "insignia" gave Rothwell a problem in the next round.
Rounds 12, 13 and 14 pitted best friends and middle school students, Oesterblad and Romberger against each other for the win.
The girls had been practicing together after school, between homework, Girl Scouts, soccer, basketball and the middle school academic team, for the past month and that practice paid off. The next few minutes kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Romberger began by spelling "latticed" correctly.
Oesterblad spelled "Protestant."
Then Romberger left out the ‘a' in "enchilada" and Oesterblad spelled "philosophy" correctly.
Pronouncer and district superintendent Sue Myers gave her the last word: "Oblique."
Oesterblad asked her to use it in a sentence. Oesterblad listened to the sentence, then spelling the word correctly.
Smiles lit up the study partners' faces as they excitedly clasped hands in congratulations.
Words in the last few rounds were from an intermediate level list.
The seven students who placed in the Payson Unified School District Spelling Bee won trophies, sponsored by Rim Country Optimist Club. The students will travel to the Gila County spelling bee in Globe on Feb. 2. The winner at the county level will participate in the state spelling bee, held Mar. 31 at Arizona State University.