Mackenzie Kent has the solution for jittery nerves when competing in the county spelling bee.
"Just suck it up and spell," the Dearing Elementary School fourth-grader said, demonstrating her point by inhaling deeply and holding it in.
"I saw all those people sitting out there, and I was nervous. So I just sucked it up, and then it was like an empty lunchroom."
Mackenzie was runner-up in the McDuffie County Spelling Bee in the cafetorium of Thomson-McDuffie Middle School on Jan. 27.
Sixth-grader Kendrick Parker bested Mackenzie and won in the seventh round after correctly spelling bureau and limb.
"I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'I won?' " Kendrick said of the single-elimination contest.
"I was nervous every time I got out of my chair because I thought every word was going to be harder than the last."
The bee was for pupils in fourth through eighth grade, of which McDuffie County has 1,164. Mychele Rhodes, the county's director of curriculum and instruction, said the number of pupils representing each school was determined by the number of full-time enrolled pupils in that grade of the school.
Others in the competition were: Victoria Wells, from Dearing Elementary School; Auvia Carter, Brandon Baxley, Tayler Castleberry and LaKeira Williams, from Norris Elementary School; and Megan Rogers, Kamarius Simmons, Hunter Cowart, Amber Spivey, Garrett Walden, Jeremy Clark, Tanesha Thompson and Barrett Phillips, representing Thomson-McDuffie Middle School.
Retired educator Lynne Entrekin served as caller. She confessed that she is fascinated with words, frequently stopping while reading a book to repeat a word and "let it roll off my tongue."
Mrs. Entrekin has called the local bee for about 16 years, and she told the pupils she remembered when some of their parents were in it.
"I have the most enviable job of all because I have all the words in front of me with the right spellings," she quipped after she was introduced.
Judges for the contest were Krista Henry, Julie Gerlach and David Donehoo, all McDuffie County teachers.
Dr. Rhodes and administrative assistant Julia Lambert ensured that protocol was followed.
Kendrick and Mackenzie will be honored at the McDuffie County Board of Education's February planning session. Kendrick will represent McDuffie County and compete in the district level of the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee on March 5 at The Augusta Chronicle.