The word that won Independent School District 191's Spelling Bee was "lilies" — L-I-L-I-E-S — a gentle end to a parlous journey that took nearly three hours. In the end, Marissa Bauer, an eighth-grader from St. John the Baptist, of Savage, took home the top prize, narrowly defeating Eyakem Yilma, a sixth-grader from Harriet Bishop.
At the outset, there were 31 children, ranging from fifth- to eighth-grade, from 14 schools in Burnsville, Savage and Eagan. The crowd sat in rapt attention as chains of unwieldy vowels (gaiety) and double L's (miscellaneous) picked off contestants one by one through over a dozen rounds.
As time wore on, the suspense mounted. The audience let out an audible gasp during round 17, when sixth-grader Gabbi Day, of Marion W. Savage, was knocked out by "recompense"—leaving Eyakem and Marissa to battle it out.
In the final rounds, the rules changed. If both finalists spelled correctly, they both stayed in. If both were wrong, they also stayed in the game. In that case, the first one to spell a word correctly would take the title. However, victory eluded the last two standing for six discouraging rounds. Eyakem stumbled over "vassal," "lithesome" and "valence." Marissa was felled by "eradicable," "insinuate" and roulette."
It was a stalemate until Emcee Lea Wright announced Marissa's next word—"lilies."
"When I heard the last word, I thought 'I have to get this,'" Marissa said.
And she did. In six letters, she'd realized a longtime dream. Parents Allan and Denise Bauer said their daughter had pinned her hopes on winning the St. John's spelling bee ever since her older brother took the title of spelling champion at the small parochial school.
Monday night, she surpassed her goal and surprised even herself.
The same held true for runner up Eyakem, whose family is originally from Ethiopia. The family's first language is Amharic, a language related to Arabic and Hebrew.
Eyakem said he studied every day leading up to the bee, but that he didn't expect to get a seat on stage, let alone take second. Originally, he placed as an understudy. Monday, he was sitting in for fifth-grader Rahil Modi, who could not make it to the bee.
In March, Marissa Bauer will head to the regional spelling bee to test her mettle against champions from neighboring schools.