MONCKS CORNER — Eighth-grader Brent Ebarle was back onstage alongside 30 other young spellers at Berkeley County High School Wednesday evening to defend his title as the district's reigning champ for the third year in a row.
After winning the Berkeley County School District bee last year, the timid 13-year-old from Cane Bay Middle School took home first prize at The Post and Courier SpellBound regional spelling bee and was one of five winners from South Carolina to compete at the famed Scripps National Bee in Washington, D.C.
He made it to the third preliminary round of the nation's biggest spelling bee before stumbling on the word "flagitate," meaning "to press or urge with frequent or unreasonable requests."
Brent was heartbroken, naturally, but his success last year was still nothing short of remarkable. He had immigrated to the United States only three years earlier from the Philippines with his mother, Dhenia, and big sister, Patricia, to join their father, who was working for Boeing. Brent started fifth grade at his first American school taking English for Speakers of Other Languages. He finished the year as his school's top speller.
On Wednesday, Gil Ebarle watched his son from the back of Berkeley High's auditorium, texting updates from the bee in his native Tagalog to his wife who, as usual, was nervously waiting outside the auditorium doors with Patricia.
By the eighth round, only Brent and Nicholas Smith of Berkeley Middle School were left on stage, after sailing through words like "teriyaki," "elixir," "omnipotent" and "quell."
Then Brent was asked to spell a word he wasn't sure he'd ever heard before, "baba," defined by Merriam-Webster as "a rich cake soaked in a rum and sugar syrup."
He silently debated whether there were two "b's" in the middle or one.
Finally, he spelled, "B-A-B-A," correctly.
In the ninth round, following almost an hour of rapid-fire spelling, Nicholas erred on the word "chintz." To seal his victory, Brent had to correctly spell "macadamia" and "filibuster."
He breezed through both words, easily.
When the audience started to applaud, his father, Gil, immediately rose from his seat in the back auditorium and walked out the door, hoisting both of his thumbs up in the air.