While preparing for the first day of rehearsals for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, an unexpected thing happened. I became obsessed with the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And this week…is Bee Week. The final competition for this year’s national title. Be still my beating heart!
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been regaling everyone within earshot of my desk with the fascinating facts I’ve learned about the contest. Did you know that people BET on the outcome of the spelling bee? Or that no one from Rochester can compete because our newspaper doesn’t sponsor the competition (Syracuse residents are in, however, represented by 13-year-old Alaina Kenny)? Or that an estimated 11 million students compete in the Scripps Spelling Bee in some way, through local, county, state and national competitions? I’ve shared my surprise at how much harder the winning words have become, since the founding of the competition in 1925. Early winning words included things like “fracas,” “initials,” and “therapy,” but more recent winning words have been the far less common “guetapens,” “appoggiatura,” and “cymotrichous.”
This year’s youngest speller is 8-year-old Hussain Godhrawala from South Carolina. He’s the same age as my own son, and I keep trying to picture my son trying to spell any of those words – words that I’m sure I’d get wrong in a heartbeat. I was curious about what it’s like to face that kind of pressure, and found this great video, taken from the speller’s viewpoint.
And this week…it’s all happening. Yesterday, the spellers heard from an editor of the Webster’s Dictionary, which is the final authority on spelling bee words. (Did you know that around 11pm each day, the word “Qi” is the most popularly requested word on Webster’s website? Or that the reason we spell some words differently than the British is that Noah Webster was patriotic and wanted to have distinctly American ways of spelling certain words?) Today, the competitors begin to take their first preliminary tests on computers. Tomorrow, more computer testing and a preliminary competition, followed by a third round of competition will reduce the pool of spellers to a group of semifinalists. Those semifinalists will compete on Thursday morning, broadcast live on ESPN, to reduce the pool to less than 50 spellers, who will then have an opportunity to compete in the Championship Finals on Thursday evening, also broadcast live on ESPN.
Rehearsals for Geva’s production don’t start until June 17, but thanks to this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, I’m already caught up in the world of this quirky, fun musical.