WINDER - Mara Nelms had one goal when she earned a place in the Barrow County spelling bee: beat her brother, Sam, who placed eighth in the countywide bee two years ago.
The Yargo Elementary School fifth-grader was beaming after her second-place finish Thursday, a ranking that makes her an alternate to the District 3 bee to be held Feb. 25.
"On the back of the medal I should put 'six better than Sam,'" Mara said.
Winner Kris Sewell, a seventh-grader at Winder-Barrow Middle School, correctly spelled "mallard" and "calculate" to take home the top prize and earn the right to compete against 18 other school systems at Collins Hill High School. Eleven students from Gwinnett County also qualified for the bee Jan. 28.
Twelve competitors went four rounds at the Professional Development Center Thursday morning, with the head-to-head competition lasting only three words - both Kris and Mara spelled "celestial" incorrectly before moving on to mallard, which Mara missed.
Todd and Jennifer Sewell, Kris' parents, said they were more anxious than their son. After the bee, Kris said he thought that he was the only speller who was worried about how he would do.
"I was afraid that I was the only nervous one," he said.
Kris said the key to his success was visualizing his words. Mara said she thought the bee would be a little bit harder - in fact, she had spent most of her time working on longer words.
"I'd rather have idiosyncratic or hypochondriac," she said. "The biggest word I found was agathokakological. I can spell that. I don't know what it means."
Ken Greene, the bee's caller and director of student services for the school system, said the spelling bee is one way to reward students who are successful academically. It encourages proper use of language, self-correction and an expanded vocabulary. Nelson Strubbe, a Bethlehem Elementary School counselor and president of the Barrow County Association of Educators, said it also helps students learn public speaking, self-esteem and sportsmanship.
Greene said he was confident that Kris will do a good job representing the county.
"He'll do very well in the next round of competition," Greene said. "He's calm and he takes time thinking about the words."