Some of the students were so little their feet did not reach the floor as they sat waiting for their chance at the microphone. At the beginning of the 38th-annual Hemet Unified School District Spelling Bee held at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the HUSD Professional Development Service Center, Spelling Master Walt Pleasnick looked out at the 44 students from district elementary and middle schools and said, “I’m nervous; I don’t know why. I’ve done this many times and I’m still nervous.”

It was a good way to start for the assembled students, breaking the ice and acknowledging the obvious — the nerves of the contestants and the seriousness of the competition. Pleasnick also cautioned members of the audience not to talk or disrupt the proceedings in consideration of the young contestants. On at least two occasions during the bee, he had to request mothers take their crying toddlers outside the room where the contest was being held. He also asked a member of the press to step away from the front of the room because her attempts to take pictures could be distracting to the students.

As the bee began, students were instructed to come to the microphone, say the word to be spelled, spell it and then repeat the word before returning to their preassigned seats. Once eliminated they would leave their seats in the contestant area and return to their parents and supporters in the audience. He reminded students that leaving the room for a bathroom break, before a scheduled 10:30 a.m. recess, could cause them to miss their turn and be automatically eliminated. None left before the scheduled break.

The first stumble came early in round one on the word “parameter.” Idyllwild School students Joel White, fifth grade, and Timothy Mejia, sixth grade, made it into the second round before being eliminated. Idyllwild School sixth-grader Adam Smith survived until the third round and required an “instant replay” of the digital recording of his spelling before being eliminated at number 19 on the word “hundredth.” It wasn’t initially certain to the judges whether Adam had added both the “t” and the “h” at the end of the word. With the replay, which was repeated twice, because Adam had spoken softly and hurriedly at the end of the word, it was decided he had not spelled the word correctly. Fifth-grade student Fiona McMullen, the fourth of Idyllwild School’s qualifying entrants, was not able to attend the bee.

These fourth through eighth grade students displayed remarkable equanimity and seriousness of purpose. Some were bold at the microphone, some quiet and shy, but each came with resolution to his or her moment in the spotlight. No one froze or choked. This was something they had prepared for and it showed in their delivery.

At the end of the morning, Western Center Academy sixth grader Julian Gonzalez won the right to represent HUSD at the Riverside County Spelling Bee at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 4, at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center. He won by correctly spelling the word “haiku.” Accompanying him as alternate is Pamela Jansen, eighth grade, from Diamond Valley Middle School. Finishing third and fourth were Ethan Corum, Western Center Academy sixth grade, and Delaney Doyle, Dartmouth Middle School seventh grade.