Twenty-five area spelling bee champions faced off at Texas Christian University for the regional spelling bee, leaving two standouts.
Judges declared Mark De Los Santos, 13, the winner after 15 rounds of spelling. He successfully spelled "retrocedence" and then had to spell "desertification," the championship word.
"I felt really nervous, yet really excited," De Los Santos said.
He was familiar with "desertification" but wanted to spell it cautiously so he wouldn't have to take the competition to another round. He asked the judges to define it, list its origin, tell him the part of speech and repeat the word and the definition before he spelled it.
Another standout at this year's competition was fourth-place finisher Lexi Freeman, 12. She spelled words on her hand, arm, on the back of her number placard and in the air.
"It helps me visualize the words, so I can know which letters go where," she said.
Her dad, Army Capt. Lance Freeman, sat a few rows back, watching his daughter's every move and texting his nervous wife, who waited for updates.
"My wife gets very nervous, so she has to stay at home," he said. "That's protocol. She can't be here."
Lexi Freeman has dreamed of this moment since kindergarten. Her mom helps her study by pulling words out from the dictionary while her dad dictates the spelling. He even helped after he was deployed to Iraq in 2008.
As a member of the United States Army, he was able to send books to his kids with voice-recorded readings.
Lexi said it provided support when he was away.
"My dad's my hero, because he does really awesome, awesome things and he helps protect us," she said.
She may not have won the competition, but she plans to come back next year even stronger.
De Los Santos will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee later this year.