Panic. P-A-N-I-C. While that happened to be the first word misspelled in the 2013 Sunflower Spelling Bee on Saturday morning, it certainly didn't describe the mood of the young students assembled for the competition.

Eighty-two third- through eighth-graders repeatedly took their turn at the microphone, attempting to spell words offered by the pronouncers. Through nine rounds, the contestants were eliminated one by one. At the end, Sterling Hollond from Leavenworth County was declared champion. He will be flown to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee -- which will be televised on ESPN.

This was the first year the Sunflower Bee took place in Hays. Sponsored by The Hays Daily News, with generous support from AT&T and Sunflower Electric Power Corp., the event took place under the bright lights of Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Volunteers from Omicron Delta Kappa and honor students from FHSU assisted to make the bee run smoothly. The university also provided judges and pronouncers; the remaining judges were from Hays High School, Lindsborg and Wichita.

Hundreds of spectators witnessed the well-prepared spellers attempt to clearly articulate simple and difficult English words from a variety of origins. Nerves were present, although many had extremely high levels of self-assuredness. The students received either a nod of approval to remain on stage -- or the dreaded "I'm sorry, that is incorrect" and exit.

Disappointment, if displayed at all, was delayed until offstage. Even though all but one was eliminated throughout the day, these students were poised, attentive and well-mannered.

The Sunflower Spelling Bee will return to Hays on an annual basis. While not the size of other regular events such as the wrestling tournament taking place at Gross Memorial Coliseum, there is a welcome economic impact for the community. The students and family supporters traveled from 75 counties throughout the state; many made the trek the day prior.

"It's a huge benefit to the entire community," said Jana Jordan, executive director of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, "because Mom and Dad are coming, and grandparents, and the whole family comes to support (the participant). They stay in our hotels, and they eat and shop here. It's great to have them here. We love it."

The high degree of preparation by the students was matched by the hospitality they received.

Congratulations to all of the spellers that participated. We wish Sterling Hollond, a sixth-grader from Basehor-Linwood Middle School, the best of luck at the national bee. He will represent Kansas well.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net