WASHINGTON (AP) Matthew Evans heard the bell, slumped his shoulders, lowered his head and slowly walked offstage. He stayed in the comfort room for more than a half-hour, and his eyes were still red when he emerged, his hopes of winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee dashed before he could even reach the finals.
"It's disappointing," said Matthew, choking back tears.
The 13-year-old from Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the favorites to win the bee in his fifth and final appearance, then walked to his mother and gave her a long hug.
Just a few yards away, inside the ballroom of a downtown Washington hotel, 12 boys and girls were celebrating. They had survived Friday's tense midday semifinal rounds and would compete in the Friday night finals.
Tia Thomas, Matthew's longtime friendly rival, advanced to the finals, having accomplished her goal of finishing ahead of her Internet study pal. She just never thought it would be like this.
"I just thought that it would be between us," Tia said. "I didn't expect him to go out in Round 6."
Nobody did. That's why, when Matthew walked offstage, he received a rare tribute: a standing ovation from the audience, as well as from every speller on stage. He had been stumped by "secernent," a word dealing with secretion and one that somehow eluded him as he studied his personal 30,000-word list. He guessed at the spelling, ending it with "-ant."
"I know a lot of people were rooting for me," Matthew said.