Christal Schermeister stood a few inches away from the microphone. Everything seemed to ride on what she said next.
A single misspoken alphabetical character could be the end. Yet the letters came: “R-E-M-B-R-A-N-D-T.”
With only the aid of definitions, etymologies and parts of speech, a group of students dueled over words Tuesday at The Miami Herald’s 73rd annual Spelling Bee in Davie.
The students, a balanced mix of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, came from more than 60 public and private middle schools in Broward County.
There would only be one winner, who would go on to the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
Participant No. 1 was eliminated with the first word of the final spelldown, “dross.”
Three more of the 28 finalists followed her soon after.
Eventually, it came down to the final three. One would fall victim to the word “coterie.”
But Christal got that word right. She spelled Rembrandt to get the win.
“I knew it,” she said. “I was just trying not to get caught up in moving too fast.”
The homeschooled eighth-grader who was also last year’s champion will once again compete in the national spelling bee in May. Last year, she advanced to the second semi-final round.
Christal’s mastery of words was achieved through several hours of study, she said - nearly four hours every weekday.
She credits the flexibility of home-schooling: “If you want to take more time to study spelling instead of science, you can.”
Christal still remembers the word that got her eliminated from the national spelling bee last year: “Calo.” To get ready for it will take more arduous work.
“We’re going to step it up -- study some national level things,” she said.
Kofi Blake, an eighth-grade student at Parkway Middle School came in second place, and Tamar Lilienthal, a seventh-grade student at Hebrew Academy Community School came in third place.
Earlier in the day, Peyton Robertson, a fifth-grader at Pine Crest School, won the elementary school portion of the bee - again. He also won last year.
Jillian Malinsky of Christ Church School came in second place, and Aidan Veghte of University School came in third.
Peyton survived “divulgation” and “excoriate” to get first place.
He studied the etymologies of a long list of words released by competition organizers, he said.
“About halfway through, they went off that list,” Peyton said. “Then you just had to be a natural speller.”
Altogether, more than 120 Broward students participated in Tuesday’s competition, sponsored by Burger King. The Miami-Dade spelling bee is March 20.