Bryce Morales admits he may have had a bit of an edge when he got a Spanish-derived word as his final challenge Saturday at the Maine State Spelling Bee.

Morales, who is from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but attends Berwick Academy, successfully spelled “estanciero,” to outlast Lila Gaudrault of Cape Elizabeth Middle School to win the bee in the 90th round.

Morales said he’s taking Spanish at Berwick Academy and that, along with the fact that his paternal grandparents are from Cuba, helped him with the word, which means the owner of a South American cattle ranch.

Morales and Gaudrault engaged in a nerve-wracking exchange of incorrect spellings during rounds 84-87 and both correctly spelled their words in the 88th round.

Then Gaudrault missed out on “braconniere,” a 16th century piece of armor, while Morales correctly spelled “ohelo,” the name of a Hawaiian plant. To win, a competitor has to spell two consecutive words correctly after the other competitor misses one, and Morales wrapped up the title in round 90 with “estanciero.”

Fifteen middle schoolers took to the stage at Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus Saturday afternoon to compete for the state spelling championship. It started at 2 p.m., and it wasn’t long before Morales and Gaudrault were locked in a head-to-head battle that didn’t end until nearly 5 p.m.


Michael Ashmore, the chief judge for the bee, said the two exhausted the original list of 300 words at around round 80, so they went to the auxiliary list of 200 words. Because the words generally get more difficult further into the list and the contest was down to two great spellers, he said the judges opted to start from the end of the second list and work their way back.

That led to a string of German-derived words that both Morales and Gaudrault struggled with.

“I had no idea what they were,” Gaudrault said, although both spellers were only a letter or two off on the words they got wrong,

“I was getting really nervous,” Morales said.

The two had outlasted the other 13 spellers, seven of whom were eliminated about a half-hour into the contest after they stumbled over such words as “hassock” and “seersucker.”

Some spellers asked for definitions or the country of the word’s origin before beginning to spell, while others jumped straight in.


“Michael, your word is ‘credible,'” pronouncer Jeannine Uzzi said to speller Michael Hockenberry of Skowhegan Area Middle School.

“C-r-e-d-i-b-l-e,” Michael rattled off without hesitating.

As spellers were eliminated, they removed their name tags but remained seated on stage.

Finally, after the 80th round, the judges told the eliminated contestants they could leave the stage to sit with their families in the auditorium.

The Maine State Spelling Bee is sponsored by MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Sentinel.

The spellers won countywide competitions earlier this year in 15 of Maine’s 16 counties. Morales will compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee the week of May 24 in Washington, D.C.

A second Maine speller, winner of the Penobscot County Spelling Bee sponsored by Husson University, will also represent Maine at the national bee.

This story was updated at 11 a.m., March 22, to correct the origin of Bryce Morales’s Cuban heritage. 

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