I categorize this week's Scripps National Spelling Bee as a sport because this tends to be a sports blog and I feel like writing about spelling. So there.
In this annual national spelling spectacular that, not to go unnoticed, ESPN covers sometimes, people sweat and worry. A few years ago one kid fainted keeling over to his right and landing flush on the ground, his eyes soaring deep into his upper eyelids. The stakes fly high. Winning proves elusive, often unattainable. Competitors come from around the United States and don't root for each other; they root for their competitors to misspell words just like gymnasts hope their competitors fall off the balance beam. The best prevail usually because they possess the most talent. Talent trumps toughness. Preparation proves paramount. Above all, it's all about the trophies, winning and losing. Sounds like basketball and baseball to me, as well as golf, ice dancing, college cheerleading, curling, and a few dozen other sports.
Granted, to be a good speller you don't have to be able to run a fast 40-year dash although I suppose it wouldn't hurt. You don't need to clean and jerk 200 pounds but in a spelling bee your size might scare some other kids in and of itself. You don't have to be any good at Hula-Hoop, which isn't a sport really, so this is an irrelevant thought.
To win the National Spelling Bee, you need to basically known everything about your craft exactly the way NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning does his. Manning knows all and always will. Winners of Spelling Bees do the same. They tower over their sport, sumo wrestle it to the ground. Like a boxer, they punch its guts out.
To win this thing you need to be like Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player ever. When asked why he played better than everyone else, he explained that his secret: skating to where the puck would be rather than where it was. Likewise, to win the Spelling Bee you have to anticipate what word you will be asked to spell. Sammy or Suzy the Super Speller has to envision what word will be hurled their way and then swing at the word with precision and accuracy in a similar fashion that Gretzky whacked the puck with a surgeon's precision.
I suppose doing a few push-ups before a Spelling Bee would get your heart pumping a bit. Who knows, maybe that has something to do with spelling words correctly? Consult your doctor.
This much I will go to my dirt nap believing: The National Spelling Bee embodies more of a sporting feel than being a race car driver in any of its bewildering types of leagues such as IndyCar, Nascar, Nationwide Series and Whatever Whatever IndyCar WhateverCar. It takes no athletic skill to sit in a seat and turn a steering wheel even if the car fires at 200 miles per hour. It takes more athletic ability to stand up before a microphone and spell words. Standing is harder than sitting, athletically.
I fancy myself a good speller. Algebra, chemistry, statistics, taxes not so much; each of these and more academic subjects ripped my neurotransmitters into shreds throughout my academic odyssey. But kids didn't mess with me in spelling class certainly not from 5th through 8th grade. Shoot, I bet I got an A in that class each of those years. I owned Spelling class sort of like Robert Redford owned hitting a baseball in "The Natural."
But then around the puberty period horticultural also hit-seemed appropriately timed. My Dad started insisting I would be his go-to kid to cut his lawn 35 times each summer. Fair enough, but we had a diabolical front hill that no kid should have been trusted to cut. Dad suppressed any fears he may have felt over that because I believe--though never confirmed and why bother at this point?--he didn't want to cut the grass. He knew he could force me to do it because he provided the Corn Flakes in the kitchen cupboard I raided all the time to stay alive. "You cut the lawn and I'll go buy some flowers to plant," he would say while handing me the gasoline can to fill up the mower and get cutting.
This situation turned out to be double bummer. I had to mow the lawn while discovering I had spelling limitations. I found out I was no longer a First-Team All American Speller. Blame the names of flowers. Ever tried to spell forsythia and rhododendrun? And this one is ridiculously hard to spell: chrysthanemum. Check and see I spelled them wrong here because I don't know how.
These flowers look nice. But they're crazy difficult to spell. Add this one to the list: rhubarb. Or maybe that's just a pie and not a flower. Call it a flower and call it a day.
I can spell pansy. But so can everyone else including race car drivers and Danny DeVito. Black-Eyed Susans are easy to spell although I don't recall ever dating one. If I had, she probably would not have liked me especially if I talked about spelling although there could easily have been other reasons.
Spelling is also sport-like because it often leads to arguments and resentments just like, say, the Los Angeles Lakers' players and coaches this season. Every time I see the word accommodation I can't decide if it's two "m's" or two "c's" or both. This is one of the more annoying words in the English language. There is also, of course, the word judgement. Or is it judgment? You be the judge.
In the professional world when people write documents, they often debate the spellings of these and other words. Debates lead to competition, battling to protect one's turf, winning the game, making more money, earning promotions. They argue about whether "Spell Checker" is right or wrong.
It's competition. It's about winning. It's about losing and tears and defeat. It's about unrealized goals, agony and ecstasy.
It's spell-binding. It's spell-binding. Or should that be spellbinding? Oh, to spell with it.