The battle to determine Huntington County's spelling champion was, at the end, all in the family.
When it was over, Salamonie Elementary School fifth-grader Hailey Alford had bested her second cousin, Nick Scheiber, but only after the two spent the final few rounds trading correct answers.
Scheiber, also a fifth-grader, represented Andrews Elementary School in the county bee on Monday, Feb. 11.
Despite the relationship, Alford and Scheiber said they didn't get together to hone their spelling words.
Alford will advance to the regional spelling bee, to be held on March 17 at Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne.
She outlasted nine other spellers in the county contest, including Scheiber, getting her chance at the win when Scheiber stumbled on the word "taciturn." Alford went on to correctly spell "geologist" and claim the crown.
"I was really nervous," Alford said after the competition. She said she studied spelling words every night with the help of her mom, her grandmother and her aunt.
"I took a break on the weekends," she added.
She plans to keep up the routine in preparation for the regional contest.
"If there's a list, I probably will study that," she said. "I guess I'll just try to do my personal best."
Alford is the daughter of Sarah Scheiber.
Scheiber, the runner-up, will compete in the regional spelling bee if Alford is unable to do so. His parents are Jim and Jodi Scheiber.
Seven school winners dropped out of the county bee in the first four rounds, stumbling on such words as "restaurant," "sentient" and "deodorant."
Auden Eckert, Riverview Middle School's spelling champion, kept up with Alford and Scheiber for four more rounds, dropping out of the contest after be misspelled "officiant."
Also participating in the county bee were Emily Daas, of Flint Springs Elementary School; Logan Moreland, of Crestview Middle School; Alexi Holzinger, of Huntington Catholic School; Layla Martz, of Lancaster Elementary School; Mikayla Williams, of Lincoln Elementary School; Isaac Hostetler, of Northwest Elementary School; and Autumn Anderson, of Roanoke Elementary School.
They won the right to compete at the county level by winning spelling bees at their individual schools. The only exception was Moreland, the alternate at Crestview, who stepped in when Crestview's champion, Terrence Wintrode, was unable to compete.
The county bee, sponsored by the Huntington Metro Kiwanis Club, was held at Habecker Dining Commons on the campus of Huntington University.
Don Cotton served as pronouncer for the bee, with Jean Hayden, Cindy Kiefer and Brooks Fetters serving as judges.