NORMAN — When people talk about having spells of good luck, they seldom mean it literally.
But at the Central Oklahoma Spelling Bee that took place Saturday at the University of Oklahoma, Cole Schafer-Ray was thinking exactly that.
The sixth-grader from Alcott Middle School in Norman won the bee with the word “phlox,” defined as any of a genus of red, purple, or white flowers.
But before Schafer-Ray could make it to the final round, he had to spell words like “hegemonic” and “exaugural.”
Some, like “dowager” and “peculate,” the 12-year-old had never heard before.
“Those two were definitely the hardest,” Schafer-Ray said. “I just had to guess.”
Of course, Schafer-Ray's victory wasn't simply luck.
He has been participating in spelling bees since second grade, and this is his third year to make it to the state-level bee.
“I read over the spelling lists a lot,” he said of his preparations for the bee. “My brother is my coach. He got second place in state when he was in eighth grade.”
Schafer-Ray will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington, D.C.
He also won a copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, a two-night stay in one of Oklahoma's state parks, a year's subscription to the Britannica Online Encyclopedia, and the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award.
Michael Mandanas, of Edmond, was the runner-up Saturday.
A seventh-grader at Heritage Hall, Mandanas spelled “mobiliary” correctly to advance to the final round, but misspelled “discrete.”
“I'm planning on coming back next year, though,” he said.
Mandanas was the runner-up in the 2012 state bee, and he placed first in his regional spelling bee earlier this year.
This year the competition was especially intense, going into 26 rounds, nearly five hours, as compared to last year's 14 rounds.
The students successfully rattled off spellings of words like “Weissnichtwo,” “gnathonic” and “roodebok” — and those were just in the preliminary rounds.
For anyone wondering, those words are a term for imaginary place, an insulting word, toadying, and a species of African antelope.
Tensions were high as the rounds grew increasingly difficult.
Still, there were some humorous moments.
When spelling the word “synchronous,” Calvin Tolbert, of Casady School in Oklahoma City, gave the first eight letters and shouted, “OU!” to the delight of Sooner fans in the audience, before finishing the word.
Tolbert was one of eight contestants remaining by the 16th round but misspelled “pickelhaube,” a type of helmet worn by German soldiers in the 19th century.