SUWANEE - Chelsea Burden spent Saturday morning pacing outside the Collins Hill High School Theater, praying her younger sister would get easy words to spell.
Kari Burden was much less nervous.
"It was pretty easy, I thought," the Creekland Middle School eighth-grader said after winning the District 3 spelling competition.
She and Hall County eighth-grader Jonathan Casas will compete against 18 other spellers from around Georgia at the state spelling bee March 21. The winner of that bee will represent Georgia at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
Kari, an avid reader and ballet dancer, said she didn't spend much time studying for the competition. She correctly spelled "innavigable" then "umbilical" to win the bee after Jonathan left an "n" out of the first word.
Before spelling "umbilical" correctly, Kari was told to spell "superfluous," a word the judges chose to eliminate from the competition after caller Carol Terry failed to pronounce it properly.
Several parents took issue with Terry's pronunciations. Summerour Middle School eighth-grader Andrew Min was eliminated in the fifth round when he spelled "parentage" incorrectly after asking Terry to repeat the word several times.
Diane Min, Andrew's mother, protested his elimination, saying her son never pronounced the word accurately before he began to spell it. The father of Shiloh Middle School eighth-grader Rhianna Hearne also protested her elimination in the ninth round when she spelled "alkaline" wrong, saying that word was mispronounced by the caller.
Diane Min said she was frustrated by the decision that Andrew did pronounce the word correctly because the judges didn't play the tape back after her protest.
"For me, it's very unfair," she said. "I don't want this thing to happen for other kids. ... I just want this to be improved so people have a fair trial."
Donnis Terry, the District 3 Spelling Bee consultant, said she was satisfied with the bee's results.
"There will always be some people who are disappointed, who feel hurt a little bit," she said. "The judges did everything they could to make this fair."
Andrew said he was disappointed that he won't have another shot at the spelling competition, but glad that Kari won the bee.
Kari, wearing bee earrings and a bee necklace she received as a gift Friday, brought her mother to tears with her win. The family planned to go to O'Charley's or Steak 'n Shake to celebrate her victory.
Jonathan said he would be going to Olive Garden before starting to study again for the next round of competition.
"I was thinking, 'She really deserves it,'" he said of Kari's win. "I feel good. I could have prepared more, but I tried my best."
Naveed Khan, a Sweetwater Middle School seventh-grader who was eliminated in the 12th round in his fourth appearance at the district bee, is the alternate to the state competition.
Kari correctly spelled words such as "sinew," "mercurial," "savvy," "valence" and "halogen" on her way to victory. Jonathan spelled words like "postmortem," "appertain," "javelin," "treacherous" and "celestial" as he battled through 15 rounds of words.