Yesterday The E.W. Scripps Company crowned Evan M. O'Domey the 2007 National Spelling Bee champ. I saw media coverage on at least 10 channels. It raises two questions for me. Does the Spelling Bee belong on national television and what is the significance of the Spelling Bee?
Before I get ahead of myself let me give you a little background into why the spelling bee interests me.
From 1st to 7th grade I was my school's spelling bee winner. I qualified for the state tournament as a 5th grader but didn't have the talent (if you can call spelling a talent) to compete with the nation's best. Now let me make something clear. I am not bragging about this. Saying you are the spelling bee champ is about as cool as being an Eagle Scout in high school. And thank God I was smart enough to get out of boy scouts in elementary school. I can only sigh in sadness for the socially awkward boys I saw who wore high khaki shorts and the boy scout bandana in high school.
One reason I quit was there is a lot of pressure on a child in the event. I learned how competitive I was when I first competed. I cried and would be frustrated when I would lose. Luckily I had a family who supported me whether or not I went to the Nationals.
The second reason I quit was a social issue. It all came together when a friend of mine said, "You're competing AGAIN? Don't you want to be popular?" That day I was forced to make a choice. I put the spelling bee trophies away and instead put my competitive focus on sports like football, baseball, basketball, and track.
I can honestly say I have never competed in something quite like the Spelling Bee. It is a fun event for younger children who, to be honest, may not excel in the world of athletics. But while I liked competing in it there were two reasons I ultimately quit.
As I watched "highlights" of the Spelling Bee I saw Samir Patel get knocked out on the word clevis. His mother went on a 40 minute tirade and blamed the judges for mispronouncing the word. While I have been involved in an incident like that where a word was mispronounced I have to say that parents need to relax in these events. This is as bad as the little league dads who attack the umpires for calling balls and strikes they don't agree with. Leave it to an adult, who no longer has their youth or innocence, to ruin what should be a fun time for a child.
As odd as the event is I can honestly say I loved competing in it. There was a lot of admiration from other kids when I would win. I remember in 2nd grade when I won the school event and was lifted up on other 2nd graders shoulders because I had "upset the 3rd and 4th grade spellers. We had had our first taste of sticking it to the man.
But the main reason I loved spelling as a child is that it made my mom and grandmother proud. When my grandmother passed away I asked for my spelling bee trophies to be placed in her casket with her. So the event can be greater than what it seems.
For many of these spellers, who are home schooled, it represents a rare opportunity to be rewarded for their time and efforts to study. A common misconception is that spelling is a natural talent. It is more the process of memorization and understanding of phonetics in a word.
And I totally realize how much of a nerd I sound like right now. haha
The Spelling Bee does have its place as a party enhancement also. Some of my friends have watched the event and placed bets on their favorite to win. Here is a fun game. Get a group together , turn on the Spelling Bee, and take a drink every time a speller asks for the origin of a word. Take 5 drinks if the kid spells it out onto his hand. You will be blitzed in no time.
If you want to better understand how odd and compelling this event is I would recommend renting "Spellbound", a documentary that chronicles the lives of some of the national competitors. These kids are funny, quirky, and give you a truthful glimpse into a very bizarre and tense event.
Is spelling a sport? I wouldn't say so. It doesn't require physical rigor. Does it belong on ESPN? I also can't answer that. Is it any less entertaining than a Strongman competition honestly? I do know this. The Spelling Bee is a piece of American culture that is definitely odd but also entertaining to me. It doesn't have the same entertainment value as watching Lebron James go off for a magical 48, 9, 7, statline. But it fits somewhere into American society.