Evan Gurrola caught himself spelling random words in the days leading up to the Finney County Spelling Bee.

“… Around the house my mom would stop me and have me spell some of the words…” an elated Gurrola said, following his victory in Saturday’s local spelling bee in Garden City High School’s auditorium. “This was like a practice to me to learn some of the words…”

The Horace Good Middle School eighth-grader earned the title of Finney County Spelling Bee champion after going through four rounds with some of the county’s best spellers from elementary through middle school. He will go on to represent Finney County in the Regional Spelling Bee at Newman University in Wichita on March 9.

“This is my first time making it to the spelling bee…” Gurrola said. “I didn’t think I would last this long, but I did.”

Gurrola said he surprised himself with winning the spelling bee, as he thought some of the words would be more difficult and because there were so many top spellers competing.

He spelled “aquatic," “frontier” and other words in his path to winning.

The fourth round proved too difficult for most of the field as a majority of the competition bowed out and there were just six spellers left standing. One by one, each of the remaining spellers took their turns at the microphones attempting to spell their words. Words like “silhouette," “rotunda,” and “competition” knocked out some of the participants.

The first five competitors in the fifth round spelled their words incorrectly until Gurrola — the last speller of the round — was given the word “rogue.” After correctly spelling that word, and being the only one to spell his word correctly in the round, he had to spell an additional word correctly to be named the winner. Gurrola was given the word “parallel.” He took his time, reciting each letter, then looked to the judges, who informed him he was correct.

He was the Finney County Spelling Bee champion.

“The word ‘parallel’ was kind of tricky. It had me stuck for a second,” Gurrola said. “… It’s one of those words that has the same letters in it that you can get mixed up, but I got it.”

Alice Gurrola, Evan’s mother, said she thought having her son spell words around the house to practice before the spelling bee paid off.

“I’m just so proud of him,” she said. “He’s worked hard for this… now we’re off to Wichita.”

Following the announcement of the spelling bee winner, the five remaining spellers then had to participate in a spell-off to determine a second- and third-place finisher.

Eryn Baldwin, a sixth-grader at Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, took second place and will serve as alternate for Gurrola. Schoolmate Alyssa Lemons, a fifth-grader, took third.

The two BSIC Bulldogs participated in the three spell-off rounds after three other spellers were knocked off. Throughout the spell-off rounds, the two girls had to spell “resistance,” “interior,” “quiche,” and “spontaneous.”

In the third and final spell-off round, Baldwin and Lemons went back and forth for nearly a dozen words, but after Lemons incorrectly spelled “governor,” it opened up the opportunity for Baldwin to win after she correctly spelled “self-esteem."

Taking second overall gave a little boost to her own self-esteem, Baldwin said.

Baldwin said she is no stranger to a spell-off, as during her school spelling bee, she and another student spent over 20 minutes going back and forth in order to determine a second-place finisher.

Overall, Baldwin said she thought she did an OK job in the spelling bee and represented her school well.

“… I just really love spelling, and I know what a pancreas is now…” Baldwin said, referencing one of the words she spelled incorrectly during one of the spell-off rounds. ”I’ve never even heard that word until now.”