The darkened auditorium was tense as Tanay Patri stepped to the microphone.
If the two-time champ could spell one more word, he'd take home his third straight regional spelling bee championship trophy.
After a few short moments of contemplation, the McCallie School seventh-grader sealed his victory with a calm, confident "W-H-I-M-S-I-C-A-L."
The room erupted in applause as the Boy Scout, swimmer and pianist claimed his trophy and $500 award.
Tanay and his family are now headed to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and Patri said he's lucky to have made it through the competition.
"Spelling's a lot about luck, but you've go to work hard to get where you are and even with luck, you've got to know what you're doing," Tanay said after his victory in the regional event sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "This year was the toughest."
As Tanay and his family celebrated his victory, a smaller, quieter celebration was taking place away from the stage.
Matthew Lawson went out in the first round, but he still considered the day a huge victory.
The eighth-grader from Chilhowee Middle School in Benton, Tenn., was diagnosed with autism at birth, and doctors said he probably wouldn't be able to read or write.
"Just to be here is amazing," said his mother, Martha Lawson. "We're just overwhelmed with so much excitement."
Though there were plenty of tears as contestant after contestant was eliminated, some were able to leave the competition with a smile.
Nathan Bolden, an eighth-grader from Jasper Middle School in Marion County, Tenn., was joking around as he left the auditorium after slipping up in the first round.
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Bolden had competed in his school's spelling bee three years ago, but lost when he forgot how to spell "sugar." This year, he missed the last vowel on the word for Japanese grill, spelling it "H-I-B-A-C-H-E."
"I was so sure that I was going to win," he said. "Then I got a 'sugar.'"
Though he lost, Bolden and his mom headed out to celebrate getting all the way to regionals.
"We're gonna go get us something to eat," his mom said.
"At the Chinese buffet," Bolden chimed in.
"So he can learn how to spell 'hibachi,'" his mom laughed.