By Scott Underwood
The Herald Bulletin
No one is perfect, but the spellers in The Herald Bulletin’s bee on Wednesday night in the Anderson City Building auditorium were nearly so in the first round. Of the 19 contestants, only one missed a word.
In fact, the worst mistake of the early rounds was the pronouncer’s. I asked one speller to take on “ruckshack.” Luckily, I caught my mispronunciation and corrected the word to “rucksack,” and the speller got it right.
It’s a shame in a competition like this that only one speller can win. The others are all good kids who practiced diligently. You hate to see any of them miss a word, particularly when a couple of questions of clarification might have helped them spell it correctly.
At the local bee level, spellers are allowed to ask the pronouncer several different sorts of questions to make sure they understand the word. They can ask for the language of origin, the part of speech, a definition, for the word to be used in a sentence, and for alternate pronunciations.
The pronouncer and judges receive from Scripps, which sponsors the national bee, a list of suggested words for local bees. They then cull the list, striking words that might vex the pronouncer or judges. The judges — Herald Bulletin Associate Editor for Features Scott Miley and the newspaper’s controller, Peggy Crabtree — and I did just that ahead of the competition.
But you have to leave some tricky and difficult words on the list; otherwise, a good group of spellers like the one we had Wednesday would go on and on spelling until the middle of the night.
One of the words we left on the list for the local bee is “servile.” The most common pronunciation for the word, as listed in the pronouncer’s guide, has an “ul” sound for the last syllable. The student who received the word spelled it “serval,” an understandable mistake. I, along with everyone else, felt bad for her. If only she had asked for an alternate pronunciation (with a long “i” in the second syllable), she might have gotten the word right. As it was, she finished third.
In the end, Joe Kirkpatrick, an eighth-grader at Highland Middle School, won the local championship. For the third time, Joe will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., as the Anderson-area champion.
Joe’s experience — along with his commitment to studying for the bee — paid off again. He spelled words slowly and clearly, taking time to ask well-placed questions of the pronouncer. He also had the good fortune of receiving relatively easy words. His championship word, for instance, was “legislation.”
Words are given to spellers in the order of the words’ appearance in the Scripps list, so Joe simply had the luck of the draw. But you’ve got to be much more than lucky to win a local spelling bee comprised of school champions, you’ve got to be an excellent speller — particularly to win it three times.
Congratulations to all of the spellers in the local bee; they’re all champions. And best of luck to Joe in Washington!
Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 640-4845.