"Let's enjoy, relax, breathe and have fun," advised Walter Turner, principal of Lodi Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School, on Wednesday morning.
Four other schools were present to compete in the Lodi area regional spelling bee for the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists: Foothills Adventist Elementary School, Hilltop Christian School, Mission Hills Christian School and Galt Seventh-day Adventist Christian School.
Judging by the white knuckles and solemn faces, the 14 kids waiting nervously on stage did not take the principal's advice to heart.
Master of ceremonies Barry van Iderstein, who works in the education department for the NCCSDA, offered a few tips of his own.
Slow down. Speak clearly. Ask to repeat the word, for the definition, or how to use it in a sentence. Write out the word on the palm of your hand. If there are two possible spellings, such as cord and chord, pick the one you know you can spell.
The row of kids in metal folding chairs nodded dutifully. It was time to begin.
"Let me apologize in advance if you don't like your word. Tough," said van Iderstein. Each round took words from a different category, ranging from crime and punishment to "Watership Down."
Sarah Verdin, of Galt, was the first to go up, and the first to go out.
The 13-year-old misspelled coppernose, a species of bluegill fish.
Five students sailed through brooklime, shingles, coalmouse and fishgig with ease.
Brittany Archie stumbled on baldmoney, referring to any plant of the gentian genus.
"It was like my brain went static. I just tried to break it down, but it didn't work," said the 13-year-old.
The bee went on, with long stretches where no one left the stage. Then, in the "Shake a Leg" category, four students left in quick succession.
In the end, Luis Perez, of Galt, Rebecca Webb, of Foothills, and Alexandra Duncan, of Lodi, were left standing after successfully spelling vandalism, arrestee and forgery.
All three had earned a spot at the championship spelling bee, to be held at Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg. They were given the option to keep spelling until only one student remained. Instead, they agreed to call it quits and accept their trophies gratefully.
Wednesday's event was one of five Northern California regional spelling bees for Seventh-day Adventist schools. The top three spellers from each will move on to the championship.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.