The final five spellers talk during a break at the Times Free Press Regional Spelling Bee at the UTC Fine Arts Center on Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Thrasher Elementary student Lisa Lin won first place and will represent Chattanooga in the national spelling bee.

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Thrasher 5th-grader wins Regional Spelling Bee

It took more than 20 rounds of spelling obscure and complicated words to declare a winner for the 2017 Regional Spelling Bee on Saturday, but by the end only Lisa Lin of Thrasher Elementary was left standing.

The fifth-grader outlasted 65 other competitors, many of them middle schoolers, and will go on to represent Chattanooga in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. She also won a $600 check courtesy of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which sponsored the event.

Under the bright stage lights in the UTC Fine Arts Center, the competitors squirmed in their seats or tapped their feet awaiting their turn. When they stepped up one by one to the microphone, they furrowed their eyebrows or wrote out letters on the palms of their hands, wrestling through a list of difficult words that most adults couldn't spell correctly.

"Can you use it in a sentence?" asked Milo Newton when challenged to spell "gestapo."

"In the novel, morality became nothing more than subservience to the ruthless dictates of the gestapo," the announcer replied. Milo then spelled it correctly.

Lisa's winning word was "moldier" — as in more moldy — which she spelled correctly to edge out runner-up Akhil Ujjina, a seventh-grader at East Hamilton. Ujjina is the younger brother of Snehall Ujjina, who won the regional competition in 2016.

The first word of the competition, "shampoo" was one of the easiest on the list. As the clock ticked on, the pronouncer turned to increasingly thorny words such as "forsythia," a flowering shrub, and "klompen," the proper term for Dutch wooden clogs.

Standing at the microphone, spellers often closed their eyes entirely to mouth the letters in preparation, or simply stared at the ceiling as if they thought the word would be written there.

Lisa said overcoming nervousness is part of the competition, but the earliest rounds are the worst.

"Once you spell a few words you calm down," she said.

She, like many of the other competitors, practiced for hours to get ready. She recommended to future competitors looking to take home the big trophy.

"You load the words onto a list and then you can choose a game. Like there's a test and it tests you randomly on the words," she said.

With a huge, golden trophy that looked like it weighed almost as much as she did in hand, Lisa answered a question about what she was most excited about with the upcoming national spelling bee.

"Ummm. Umm. It's the national spelling bee."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfree or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.