After sailing through the first several rounds of the spelling bee, she was stumped by a Flemish stew.
“W-a-t-e-r-z-o-i,’’ she spelled dubiously, each letter echoing through Faneuil Hall’s Great Hall. “Waterzooi.’’ Off by one “O,’’ the judges rang an ominous bell, signaling that Linda Qin, an eighth-grader from Boston Latin School, was disqualified.
She was one of 22 fourth- to eighth-grade students from the same number of Boston public schools to compete in the fifth annual citywide spelling bee Saturday, organized by the Boston Centers for Youth & Families.
The winner will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington at the end of May.
Qin, who speaks Mandarin at home, said she had studied the list of words meticulously, but paid less attention to the extra roster of challenge words, including “waterzooi.’’
“I had no idea - I had to wing it, just wing it,’’ she said afterward, laughing it off sanguinely. She placed third last year, too.
It was the luck of the draw. Judges read off the words, divvied up by difficulty for each of the nine rounds, in predetermined order, said Sandy Holden, a spokeswoman for Boston Centers for Youth & Family.
“There were nine rounds - it was like a boxing match,’’ Holden said in an interview.
Sam Lowery, the 12-year-old victor from Warren-Prescott Elementary School, was shocked when he won.
“I feel awesome,’’ he said. “I think I’m going to have to say it was an anomaly’’ - the word that disqualified his second-place competitor. “In a way, I did not see it coming.’’
After Lowery misspelled “hierarchy’’ in the final round against fifth-grader Zachary Doiron, Lowery said he felt uncertain for the first time during the face-off.
He confidently spelled Francophonic words like “collage’’ - his mother Sophie, an immigrant from France, said the family speaks French in their home in Charlestown - but the Greek-rooted “K’’ pronunciation in hierarchy threw him off.
“When I got ‘collage’ I thought, ‘My mom will kill me if I get this wrong,’’’ he said. “Hierarchy was the only one I got wrong, and I knew I didn’t know it.’’
This was his second year in the citywide championship. As he took the microphone during each round, standing out in his bright blue polo shirt and khakis, Lowery would extend his right hand above his head and, as if holding a pen, would seemingly write out the word in the air.
‘There were nine rounds - it was like a boxing match.’Sandy Holden Boston Centers for Youth & Family
“I did that in fourth grade, and Mom tried to stop me from doing it in fifth,’’ he said. “And I couldn’t even win the school spelling bee. So I figured I’d go back to it.’’
It worked. He defeated two of last year’s finalists, winning himself a $100 savings bond, a massive tome of a dictionary, and an all-expenses-paid trip to the capital with his parents.
“To see him win Boston and heading to D.C., I know it’s one of his dreams coming true,’’ said his father, Joe Lowery, who quizzed him with 20 words per night for the last two weeks.
But for now, Lowery said he has a different celebration planned. “I’m going to shake up a few cans of Seven-Up,’’ he said, grinning mischievously. “In the backyard, of course, or else I’d be cleaning up the kitchen all day tomorrow.’’Alexander C. Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AlexCKaufman.