For years I've heard about the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I've seen the highlights on television and made fun of the goofy looking kids who invariably will become nuclear physicists, brain surgeons and unibombers. But I had never watched the spelling bee.
Several things have factored in to my avoiding the spelling bee. First I'm still bitter over losing a spelling bee in the third grade. I don't remember what word I misspelled but I'm sure it would have stumped even the best spellers. That one event set off a lifetime of bad spelling. I can misspell a word so badly on one of my columns that the spellcheck can't even decipher what word I'm trying to spell.
But this year I decided that instead of being embarrassed that a bunch of preteens can spell better than I can, I would watch the spelling bee and marvel in their brilliance. That and I had finally gotten a good draw in the spelling bee pool. Normally I draw a public school kid and know I have no chance from the start. But this year I had a home schooled kid with a long last name that would take a brilliant speller to spell.
So I was as excited as one can be when they sit down to watch a spelling bee. Which is to say I was barely awake and bored out of my mind. But I was ready to see what the hubbub was all about.
After a few minutes of kids dancing and a little precompetition show, the bee finally got going. And the poor boy gets up there and cannot even pronounce the word he was given, girolle. How can you spell the word if you can't pronounce it? Apparently you can't and he got "the bell" which means he was wrong and he had to go to the loser's side. He was about to cry and had to choke back the tears when he was interviewed afterward.
Yes, they interviewed the kids when they missed a word. That is about the dumbest thing I've ever seen. The kid is a 14-year-old nerd who just saw his only goal in life go down in flames on national television. Now they make the teary-eyed kids life even worse by making him relive the failure to the hundreds of people who are actually watching this stuff at home.
After the second kid aced his word the first girl of the contest came up for her word and you could tell that she was nervous. She was bouncing up and down and shifting her weight back and forth so much I was getting seasick.
And you could tell this girl had no clue how to spell her word. I actually thought before her two minutes were up she was going to break down. This was torturing these kids. I loved it.
And this torture went on for a couple hours. One after another the little brainiacs gave looks of horror as they were given words they couldn't spell. Even my little home-schooled, long-named girl went down in flames. After missing their word, the kids would go over to the loser's side where their parents were waiting, take off their glasses and wipe their tears.
And that is something else. Nearly every one of these kids wore glasses. I guess memorizing the Webster's Dictionary isn't too good on a young persons eyes.
Finally, after two hours, a home-schooled kid named Evan O'Dorney spelled serrefine to win the competition. I was so ecstatic I opened my eyes, yawned and then turned off the television.
Afterwards I decided that it was a good thing I lost that spelling bee in the third grade. Otherwise I might have been one of those tortured kids trying to memorize the dictionary just so I could spell bouleuterion. Of course then I found out the winner got $35,000. I wonder if there is an adult spelling bee somewhere? If so, I'm t-h-e-i-r.
David Jenkins is the assistant managing editor of the Standard Democrat. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.