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Posts Tagged ‘competition’

Last Thursday night, I did something I rarely do: tuned into ESPN live online – not to watch the Mavs game, as my husband was doing on the other couch, but to watch the finals of the National Spelling Bee. Although I never came close to winning, I am a proud two-time participant in the Bee, which takes place every Memorial Day week, featuring spellers from around the country (and now, apparently, Canada and several other countries).

I started participating in spelling bees in third grade – the first year I was eligible – and kept it up until eighth grade, the final year of eligibility. That’s right, folks. Six years of spelling, studying, looking up definitions (and pronunciations!) of obscure words, and spelling again. My parents were my patient study partners and coaches (thanks Mom and Dad!), and we spent hours upon hours reviewing those words, on car trips and sitting around the kitchen table, my massive navy blue Merriam-Webster dictionary (itself a school Spelling Bee prize) at the ready. (For the record, I still have that dictionary. We haul it out pretty much every time we play Scrabble.)

I admit I wasn’t quite as hardcore as some of these kids. I never spent eight hours a day studying the etymological roots of words, like the girl who won the Bee the first year I was there. I played flute, and volleyball, and did activities at church, and spent time with my sister and friends – so the Bee was never the only thing in my life. But for six years, it was a pretty important thing. I loved it and I worked hard at it, and it dovetailed nicely with my passion for books.

Of course, a major perk of qualifying for the national bee was traveling to D.C. (for free! Twice!) and spending a whole week sightseeing and hanging out with my family and the other spellers. And on Bee Day that first year, I chatted with the guy sitting next to me for three hours. (We then made utter fools of ourselves singing “American Pie” and “She Moves in Mysterious Ways” with a group of friends at the spellers’ karaoke party, and danced to “Stairway to Heaven” at the spellers’ dance. And then we became pen pals and wrote letters for YEARS.)

The Bee was such a fun thing for me – a chance to prove my mettle, build my confidence, and show I’d learned something from all those hours spent reading and studying. (It also became my local claim to fame – there are still people at my parents’ church who refer to me as “that speller girl.”) Even now, I’ll occasionally run across an obscure word I recognize from those years. And my husband is still so jealous that I’ve been on ESPN.

I don’t always remember to tune in to watch the finals – but when I do, I’m always so impressed by these kids. They have courage and dedication and prodigious memories, and lots of determination and heart. And no matter if they get out in the first round, I’m proud of them for being there. Because I know how it feels to spell a tough word in front of a roomful of people, most of whom are older and better educated than you. I know how it feels to toss off the easier words like they’re nothing, and to shake your head over the totally impossible words and then get them right (and, okay, occasionally miss one). And I know that feeling of triumph – even if all you’re conquering is an oddly arranged group of letters.

I still have my Bee polo shirt somewhere. And when someone asks me how to spell a word at work, or I help my team win a game of Cranium by spelling a tough word (backwards or forwards), I still feel a little glimmer of that triumph.

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