Byline: Dan Scanlan, Staff writer
Caroline Hunt correctly spelled "blithesome." She did the same for "plethora" after Karl Manalo added an extra "e" to it in Round 13 of Thursday's Duval County Spelling Bee.
So event pronouncer Lee Neviaser called her the winner, and the 11-year-old Fletcher Middle School student jumped for joy. Her brother leaped from up front, slapping her a high-five.
The moment was short-lived, however, as her mother told the judges she thought her daughter still needed to spell another word. With the mistake realized and the judges resuming the competition, it would be the start of a controversial finish to the bee.
"If one person misspells a word, the next person must spell the word correctly and spell another word correctly," judge Maxine Bergman explained after the spelling resumed.
Caroline's body language showed how she felt after surviving that first hour at Mandarin Middle School, only to have to face off again against Karl, a 14-year-old from Darnell-Cookman Middle School. Her head slumped into the microphone as her mother whispered, "she can do it," before Caroline was asked to spell "habiliments."
She didn't, but Karl did. Required to spell the next word, he couldn't get his consonants around "commensal." Neither did Caroline, and the back and forth continued.
"Quondam" -- it means that which once was, former -- stumped them both, as did "gymkhana." Karl was exhilarated when he spelled "exhilarated" correctly, but he couldn't get the next word, and neither did Caroline.
In the next round, Caroline dropped an "n" out of "legionnaire," but Karl soldiered on through it. And with a Herculean burst of linguistic strength, he correctly spelled "Promethean" to become the winner.
"I didn't even know what it [Promethean] meant," he said after receiving a blue ribbon and plaque. "It was really confusing. I didn't really know what was going on and I thought I had lost at the end, then I didn't."
His mother, Anita Manalo, added: "I was nervous, and almost fainted. My feet were cold and my hands are shaking. I think it turned out right."
Caroline's mother, who had held her breath and gripped her son's hand through the final minutes of the hour-and-a-half bee, said there were some procedural mistakes at the end. But she said she accepted the results and was proud of her daughter.
"I understood the rules from what they said at the beginning and could see they made several missteps, so I am sure it is not a totally satisfying win for the winner," she said. "They were both good sports. They handled themselves beautifully in the midst of all this confusion and I could not be prouder of my daughter."
At one point in the finals after Karl misspelled a word, one of the judges started to give the proper spelling before Caroline got her chance. …