Home-school student wins spelling Competition

The final round of Tuesday's regional spelling bee boiled down to a numbers game:

Two students left standing.

Three breaks in the action for judges to ensure contenders got a fair shake.

Dozens of empty chairs left by the downed contestants.

And one cute little brother who simply stole the show.

His light moment broke up the pressure at the Charlotte Observer Spelling Bee at Spirit Square, where 30 kids from area public, private and home schools competed for a chance at the big time: the National Spelling Bee in Washington this spring.

The fifth- through eighth-graders cruised like experts through the first round, undaunted by impossible, fiercest, and lethal.

Then it got tougher.

Round two brought cylindrical and fits to Sebastian Sigmon, who sighed, slapped his forehead, tapped his fingers at his side and sighed thrice more before spelling it correctly to hearty applause.

Jessalyn Cullitan's perplexed expression drew laughs before she correctly spelled whodunit (a mystery story presented as a novel or play).

Even announcer Don King from The Observer couldn't escape the stress, with parents challenging his pronunciation of ferric, (of, relating to, or containing iron) and myriads (immense numbers). After tape playbacks, the judges deemed his articulation fair.

The end didn't mean it was over for contestants Jessalyn, Willie Coleman and Caitlin Curtis. All were called back on stage for a traditional three-way spell off for third place. Jessalyn, an eighth-grader at Pumpkin Center Middle School in Lincoln County, spelled cuisine to win third place.

That left two for the top slot: Emily Ey, a cool and collected 13-year-old from Charlotte's Alexander Graham Middle School, and Marshall Winchester, an 11-year-old home-school student from Waxhaw, with a confident, loud spelling style that left no doubt about what he was saying.

Repertoire. Natatorium. Peculation. Edentulous. The duo survived it all.

Then Emily went down on votary, a devout or zealous worshiper. When Marshall rattled off cacophony for the win, his 5-year-old brother, Tanner -- sitting still and quiet for the entire two-hour bee -- couldn't hold it in any longer. He scrambled on stage and jumped into his brother's arms for a celebratory hug.

Marshall didn't mind sharing the spotlight, since he considered the win a family affair. "My mom helped me, too -- she quizzed me a lot," he said.

Since both brothers are taught at home, "they get to spend a lot of time together," said dad Eric Winchester. "They're best friends."