Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Scripps Howard Spelling Bee

In my former position in another time and another place (hmm, sounds lyrical, someone should write a song using that phrase) I was in charge of our local Scripps Howard Spelling Bee. Or maybe it was just called the Scripps Spelling Bee...whatever. My point, if I can get there, is that I used to do a spelling bee every year with the goal of sending someone to Washington DC for the national competition. Unfortunately, spelling wasn't all that popular where I used to teach and the kids who participated sometimes actually lost on purpose. They could not have been more different from the kids who make it to Washington every year.

That said, imagine my surprise when ESPN aired a marathon of the national spelling bees yesterday. I confess *I* wouldn't have watched more than a few minutes (painful memories of disappointment, doncha know) but my twin sister became obsessed. I mean, obsessed. She watched them all. She even dvred the last few that were on through the night. (Now you know what I'll be watching tonight, FYI.) She reviewed the footage in order to see champions who were in more than one bee, and she eventually went online to check out who the winners were in the bees that she'd missed. In short, she went gaga. (That is the technical term, in case you're wondering.)

After watching numerous bees I have some observations about the marathon myself. First, ESPN should have shown the darn things in chronological order. Jumping from 1997 to 2003 to 1999 was just irritating. Second, those kids are different--and I mean that in a good and bad way. They must be incredibly dedicated to put in the time required--I know what those lists looked like before they said just learn the dictionary and even then it was a darn hard list of obscure words, so imagine how much harder it is now! Thirdly, watching the contest behaviors--the stalling and asking for definitions and starting and stopping-- was a hoot. Those kids were good. Some of them had to be instructed to start spelling every single time they hit the mike. Talk about performance anxiety. No do-overs in a national spelling bee, nuh-uh. And how about all the asking for the word to be repeated while saying it incorrectly to see if the pronouncer might slip up and over-emphasize a word part that would give you an edge in spelling it? Brilliant. Finally, those kids ought to be getting a full-ride scholarship after making it to the final round because if you can master that much spelling--heck, your potential is unlimited!

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