This week the 85th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee was held in the Maryland Ballroom of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center south of Washington, D.C. All of the 278 contestants were “spellebrities” for the duration of the event, a scholastic Olympics of sorts.
Six-year-old Lori Anne Madison from Woodbridge, Va., caught the public’s eye during the preliminaries as the youngest contestant ever. The Great Bend Tribune had its own spellebrity, Clara Wicoff, three-time winner of the Tribune’s Sunflower Spelling Bee. Although Madison and Wicoff did not make it to the finals, by making it to nationals they made their families and communities proud.
The spelling bee is still going on as this is being written, but the contest was won Thursday evening. Entering the semifinals, a girl from Kansas, Olathe’s Vanya Shivashanker, was the only contestant who achieved a perfect score in the preliminary rounds. In fact, the Heartland was well represented in the semifinals.
After the preliminaries, Bee organizers got together with sponsors and thanked them for supporting this event and doing their part to improve their communities. Many regional bees, like the Sunflower Spelling Bee, are sponsored by newspapers, although libraries and universities are also sponsors. Locally, while the Tribune is the official bee sponsor, Barton Community College plays a big part in the event. It makes sense, because newspapers, libraries and colleges all depend on a public that’s literate and engaged in its community. BCC, which also offers the annual Jack Kilby Science Day, has found a way to get kids on campus at an early age while promoting academics.
Before the regional bees come the community bees. The Great Bend Noon Kiwanis, who emphasize projects for youth, sponsor the Barton County Bee (and the Jack Kilby Science Day, for that matter). Thousands of spelling bees lead to the final championship.
There’s a stereotype of National Spelling Bee contestants as bookworms who find themselves under intense pressure, and at times the competition does become tense. They are readers, with their favorite books being the “Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” series. But the high pressure is mostly a myth; most of the contestants had a lot of fun off-stage, made new friends and enjoyed their visit to Washington, D.C. They were supportive of one another and showed good sportsmanship. Even on stage, they seemed to enjoy themselves between the nerve-racking moments. The spellers who made it this far have come to realize that learning can be its own reward. There may be 277 disappointed contestants today, but there are no real losers.