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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Alexis Ward was the w-i-n-n-e-r Wednesday night at the 40th annual Regional Spelling Bee, avenging a second-place finish in 2017 and nullifying a family rivalry.

Ward, a Fort Ann eighth-grade student, was in a tense competition with Saratoga Springs’ Caroline Street Elementary School student Casey Wan. Though Wan is a fifth-grader, her vernacular could match the best of them.

When the competition finally got to the final two (Wan and Ward) — around three hours into the night — Ward’s word was “likeable” or “likable.” She debated which one was correct.

It was a battle inside Ward’s head as to whether there was the letter “e” or not. During a long pause, Fort Ann’s pride squeaked out the high-pitched beginning of the letter, but never committed. The millisecond stutter was followed by another pause.

“I was very nervous and I just guessed,” Ward said.

She quickly respelled it during her guess: l-i-k-a-b-l-e.

Her father, Fort Edward Superintendent Daniel Ward, felt the tension and confessed that he wasn’t even sure of the correct spelling.

I was “nervous because I wasn’t sure what the right spelling was,” he said. “I don’t think either one of us were (including my wife). ... Once they said correct, we were very excited for her.”

Shortly thereafter, Wan stumbled on “shrewd.” To win the competition, Alexis Ward needed to spell “shrewd” right, and her next word.

After Ward spelled “shrewd” correctly and heard her next challenge was the word “luggage,” an ear-to-ear smile glistened on the main stage. Quickly, she spelled it and took the title from the other 31 contestants for the win.

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“It feels amazing,” Ward said. “You have no idea what (words) you’re going to get, so it’s luck of the draw really. It’s surreal.”

The competition was brought to the Ward household in recent years. In 2016, Alexis’ brother Patrick won. In 2017, however, Alexis finished in second as the word “spectacular” stumped her. After the loss, Ward epitomized the benefits of what competition could bring out in an individual. Some, like Ward, fight to be better and come back for the title.

“Every chance I could I would look up vocabulary and I tried to study as much as I could,” she said.

The spelling bee saw many strong competitors. The finalists were, from sixth to first, North Warren Elementary’s Molly Gould, Waterford-Halfmoon’s Hayden O’Rourke, Lake George Junior-Senior High School’s Joe Ross, Lake George Elementary School’s Camden Wolfield, Wan and Ward.

The final five were up on stage for multiple rounds, elongating the night as none wanted to leave. It was true grit as each knew one word could knock them out.

“It’s very nerve-wracking,” BOCES coordinator of the event Ellen Franklin-Furgason said. “I want every single one of them to win, I do. It’s very heartbreaking when they don’t spell a word correctly.”

Franklin-Furgason stated that the spelling bee began in 1978 through the work of Phyllis Aldrich. She started the Gifted and Talented Office and, just one year in, started the annual spelling bee.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, some things stuck out for Alexis’ father, Dan Ward. Whether it was pride through the plethora of photos he took while she was getting her award or the sentimental memories, Ward now sees his daughter having some rebuttals to her brother’s first-place finish just two years ago.

“She’s going to be able to tell her brother that she won it,” Dan Ward said. “That plaque is going to go back to Fort Ann with her name on it.”

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Andrew David Kuczkowski is the education reporter. Andrew can be reached at 518-742-3354. Follow Andrew on Twitter: @ByKuczkowski.

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