Twelve-year-old Lwin Moe Aung is a young man of few words, but he sure spelled plenty of them to become Allen County's spelling champion for the second time Saturday.
"It feels great," he said, stiffly leaning against a wall next to the Auer Auditorium stage of IPFW's Rhinehart Music Center.
After 23 rounds, the seventh-grader at Lutheran South Unity School successfully spelled "furlough" to take the top spot at The Journal Gazette's 60th Annual Allen County Spelling Bee presented by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives in partnership with Barrett & McNagny LLP.
He also correctly spelled "finesse," "cilantro," "parapet," and "homogeneous."
This was Lwin Moe Aung's third year participating in the Allen County spelling bee. He won it last year and will be making a return appearance to the area spelling bee on March 8, which determines who will compete in the 87th annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in May.
Lwin Moe Aung was part of a three-way tie for third place at last year's regional contest, but his past experiences didn't do much to calm his nerves on Saturday, he said.
"People would expect me to win because I won last year," he said. "I feel relieved."
Of more than 12,000 students, only 61 remained to compete Saturday at IPFW. With 29 misspelled words in the first round, nearly half of the competition was eliminated. But after a short break, the competition grew fierce.
It took nine rounds to whittle the number of spellers down to five. The top four spellers went for three rounds before an elimination.
By round 17, Lwin Moe Aung and Susan Chen, an eighth-grader at Woodside Middle School, were the only two students left. Chen misspelled "egalitarian" in round 22, which left Lwin Moe Aung to correctly spell "insidious" and the championship word, "furlough."
Chen will be asked to participate in the area spelling bee if Lwin Moe Aung is unavailable.
His success is certainly a family affair. His 16-year-old sister, Moe Moe Aung, helps him study. If she's busy, his 10-year-old brother, Soe Moe Aung will recite words for him to spell.
"He wants to go to D.C., so I tested him for two hours everyday," his sister said. "It was more about studying the foreign words like German and Dutch."
Lwin Moe Aung said he would like to make it to the national spelling bee in Washington D.C. so he could tour historic buildings and monuments.
Standing between him and the nation's capital, however, are 14 other northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio county champions who are all looking to be among the nation's top spellers.
So is he ready for his return to regionals?
"Yes," he said curtly.
No need to mince words.
Top 5 spellers
The Journal Gazette's 60th Annual Allen County Spelling Bee presented by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives in partnership with Barrett & McNagny LLP
1. Lwin Moe Aung, Lutheran South Unity School
2. Susan Chen, Woodside Middle School
3. Danielle Mishler, Canterbury School
4. Ethan Anderson, St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School
5. Sophia Whitsitt, St. Paul Lutheran School