In the end, it came down to goat vs. dog.
Susan Hartner, 62, had correctly spelled bharal, a goat-like mammal of the Himalayas, and she waited while finalist Randy Hilfman, 56, struggled with vizsla, a breed of Hungarian hunting dog.
When Hilfman missed it, and the bell sounded, Hartner looked surprised and said, "You mean I won?"
Now Hartner has all the bragging rights entitled to the winner of AARP's 2007 National Senior Spelling Bee held today in Cheyenne, Wyo.
"I was sort of stunned. I always anticipate winning because I'm competitive, but realistically I didn't think I would once I heard the words," Hartner said.
The AARP National Senior Spelling Bee began in 1996 when six AARP members in Cheyenne decided they wanted a fun way to challenge their peers to keep their minds sharp in retirement. In the spirit of inclusiveness, they opened the competition to anyone age 50 or older in the country. At first, most of the competitors hailed from nearby locales, but over the years, the bee has evolved into a renowned national event drawing spellers from as far away as Florida and Alaska. This year marks the first international participant from Canada.
Although the reach of the AARP National Senior Spelling Bee has grown since its inception, the rigor of the word list has remained steady throughout the years.
"It's a tough competition," AARP Wyoming Director Rita Inoway said. "The volunteers who put together the word list take their jobs seriously and each year it's been matched by the intensity the spellers bring to the bee."
After 13 rounds, the field of finalists was narrowed to four: Michael Petrina Jr., of Arlington, Va.; Marlene Harry, of Brownsburg, Ind.; Hilfman, of Woodinville, Wash.; and Hartner, of Hillsboro, Ore.
Petrina won the spell-off for third place, leaving Hartner and Hilfman in the 15th round to battle for the top spot. Hartner correctly spelled bharal, and Hilfman missed vizsla.
As the 2007 Champion of the AARP National Senior Spelling Bee, Hartner will travel to New York to appear live on the CBS Early Show Monday June 18, 2007 and with bragging rights to being the best senior speller in the country.
The 2008 National Senior Spelling Bee is scheduled for June 14 in Cheyenne, Wyo. Additional information about the AARP National Senior Spelling Bee is available at www.SeniorSpellingBee.com or by calling 1-866-663-3290.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. We produce AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our website, www.aarp.org. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.