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Shadows lengthened during Sunday afternoon’s spelling competition to the point where some wondered if Western New York’s newest spelling champ would emerge victorious under moonlight.

It took about two hours to whittle the field of 20 finalists at the 86th annual Buffalo News Spelling Bee down to a group of five in the auditorium of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

After that, they began dropping like flies. Within minutes, only eighth-grader Beatrice Bacon of Royalton-Hartland Middle School and seventh-grader Madeline McCoy of Grace LEAH Home School were still standing.

That’s when the test of endurance really began.

It took more than 50 minutes and nearly 50 rounds before 12-year-old Madeline, of Hamburg, finally took the championship, successfully spelling the word “cappelletti” (a type of small, stuffed pasta).

Both girls easily held their own in the early rounds, but once the word choices dramatically expanded in the final round, both Beatrice and Madeline struggled to spell two or three words in a row correctly to clinch the win.

Words like “decastich,” “bastide,” “geanticline,” “oyez,” “glaucomatous” and “heliacal” tripped up both finalists.

Beatrice, of Middleport, knew “horologium” but subsequently misspelled “flavedo.”

Madeline knew “presbytery” but then whiffed on “tropomyosin.”

On it went.

After the first two dozen rounds, everyone in the room seemed to flag a bit. The bee facilitators, sensing this, eventually chose to return to a narrower set of words that prompted immediate success by both finalists.

They both missed “mneumonic” but in quick succession spelled “paradigm,” “repertoire,” “dossier” and “witloof.”

Beatrice misspelled “apartheid,” giving Madeline the opening to spell that word correctly, then follow up with “cappelletti” for the win – 48 words into the final round and three hours after the start of the competition.

News Features Editor and spelling bee emcee Bruce Andriatch told the audience, “If you’re exhausted, imagine how they feel.”

Deb Patti, who organized the Buffalo News-sponsored bee competition, said Sunday’s competition was one of the longest she could remember in the past two decades.

Despite the marathon competition, Madeline said she found it all exciting.

“I was very nervous,” she said, “and I was also kind of surprised that I made it this far.”

Madeline was also a finalist in the News Spelling Bee last year, finishing in seventh place as a sixth-grader.

As this year’s local champion, she and an adult escort will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Western New York in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which starts May 28. She also received a $100 cash award, an unabridged Webster’s dictionary and other prizes.

Madeline said she’s looking forward to visiting Washington. Since the start of the school year, she said, she’s spent about 15 minutes a day studying spelling words. Now that she’s moving onto the finals, though, she said she plans on ramping up her efforts.

This is the first time in four years that the News Spelling Bee has crowned a new local champion. Former Casey Middle School student Nabeel Rahman finished as the top local and state Spelling Bee champion each of the last three years.

In the 2011 national competition, he stunned everyone by making it to the final round. Last year, he succeeded through five rounds before making a graceful exit. Now a high schooler, Nabeel has aged out of the competition, and Madeline has her own shot at enjoying the national spotlight.

email: stan@buffnews.com