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DECATUR – As usual, the Macon County Spelling Bee was a nail-biter, with four final spellers battling it out for six rounds without a mistake until Abigail Garcia, an eighth-grader from Our Lady of Lourdes School, finally went out in round 19 on “muishond.”

A muishond is a small, carnivorous South African mammal in the mongoose family.

Sarvesh Arivarasu, a sixth-grader, went out in the next round on “lading,” leaving Matthias Adams and Maya Jyothinagaram, two eighth-graders, battling it out for first place.

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Eighth-grader Matthias Adams smiles after spelling "momentum" correctly to be the overall winner Tuesday during the 40th Annual Macon County Spelling Bee at Richland Community College.

Matthias finally prevailed in round 21, spelling “trespasser” and then “momentum” to win after Maya went out on “mouthiness.” He's a student at Mount Zion Middle School, and Maya at Maroa-Forsyth Middle School. Both spellers were also competing against their own siblings at the bee: Maya's sister Anika, a fifth-grader, and Matthias' fourth-grade sister, Makaylah, who was one of the final nine spellers and will move forward to the regional bee, planned for 9 a.m. Saturday, March 17, at Eisenhower High School. 

The other spellers moving on are Sean Hill, fifth grade, Meridian; Zariya Graves, eighth grade, Stephen Decatur Middle School; Kaitlyn Matthews, seventh grade, Mount Zion; Zach Jalley, eighth grade, Warrensburg-Latham.

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Maya Jyothinanagaram spells a word correctly during the Macon County Spelling Bee at Richland Community College. Maya, a student at Maroa-Forsyth Middle School, came in second place on Tuesday.

The winner of the regional bee moves on to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. 

One of this year's judges was Yasir Hasnain, now a high school student at Maroa-Forsyth, who went to the National Spelling Bee for four consecutive years. His younger sister, Rabya, competed in the national bee in 2016.

Pronouncer was Matt Loveless from WAND-TV, who urged the spellers to ask as many questions as needed, including asking him to repeat the word, to make sure they understood before spelling. Once a speller begins, any mistakes can't be changed.

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There were 44 students competing Tuesday during the 40th Annual Macon County Spelling Bee in the Shilling Center at Richland Community College. The top nine advance to the Regional Spelling Bee at Eisenhower High School on March 17. More photos online at herald-review/gallery 

“Relax, have fun, and make fun of me all you want,” Loveless said, which made the youngsters laugh.

The first round was brutal, with 18 students missing their word and going out.

“This is kind of an anomaly,” said Regional Superintendent of Schools Matt Snyder, whose office sponsors the event and who acted as master of ceremonies. “Maybe we can spell that one later. The words in the first round were extremely difficult. In 13 years I've been doing this, that was the toughest first round by far.”

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Sixth-grader Sarvesh Ariviarasu from Our Lady of Lourdes School smiles after spelling a word correctly Tuesday during the 40th Annual Macon County Spelling Bee at Richland Community College.

The second round wasn't any easier, and 11 more students went out.

Matthias, who is competing for the fourth year, said he studies about a half hour every day. When he hears his word from the pronouncer, he turns his name card blank side up and looks at it to picture the word in his mind before spelling it.

Maya's method is a little different. Holding her hands in front of her as if she were using a keyboard, she said, “I imagine I'm typing on a computer. I even do that at home when I'm practicing.” She's in her fifth year of spelling bee competition.

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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