The independent news organization of Duke University

All hail the spelling champ

The monotone voice read, “Appoggiatura,” and then pre-teen screams of excitement yelped from the audience. Less than two minutes later, a winner was crowned.

It took 19 rounds to dwindle the pool of 273 pre-pubescent spellers to one—the ultimate champion of the 2005 Scripps National Spelling Bee. His name is Anurag Kashyap, and his winning word was probably easier to spell than his own name.

Upon winning, the 13 year old from San Diego, Calif., was speechless. He undoubtedly felt the swell in the back of his throat and fought back the tears of joy as cameras were thrust in his face to begin his 15 minutes of fame. I would bet there is no greater feeling for “an avid reader and straight-A student.” Heck, I would bet there is no greater feeling for any 13-year old.

The National Spelling Bee has become the P-I-N-N-A-C-L-E of youth competition. It is a nationally televised and advertised contest with not one, but two commentators. It has been the subject of an award-winning documentary, Spellbound, which was released in 2002. And it defines pressure.

Unlike some of the other major youth competitions, like the Little League World Series, each speller must rely on only himself and trust that his countless hours of training will be enough to carry him to the end. When a contestant is eliminated from the competition, he goes to the “comfort room,” I kid you not, where therapists and parents begin the healing process.

“You’re still a lot smarter than me,” they probably say sympathetically. A teary-eyed child looks up and probably replies, “A lot smarter than I.”

There really is nothing quite like it.

The greatest aspect of the spelling bee is that one cannot over-prepare. Compare it to science and math Olympiads or the National Geographic Bee, and the spelling bee blows them out of the water. Think about it. How many countries and natural landmarks exist in the world? Now, how many words are in the English language?

The fundamental concept of the game is painfully simple. Word said, and then word spelled. Granted, that has changed over the years, as more and more sixth-graders know what etymology, E-T-Y-M-O-L-O-G-Y, means and its significance. But by and large, the spelling bee has remained pure, even if a kid asks whether the chickens have large talons and land on SportsCenter.

To be honest, I once aspired to be on top of the pre-adolescent world, to be hailed as the best speller in the country even though the kids that competed never struck me as wildly interesting or cool. But it goes beyond that; it’s because winning the national spelling bee is the greatest achievement a sixth-to-eighth-grader can attain. And who doesn’t want that?

Since I have passed the age, I just compete silently on my couch and pretend that I would know the spelling of sphygmomanometer, ornithorhynchous or agio if it hadn’t appeared at the bottom of the screen. I guess you could call me somewhat P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C.

Sarah Kwak is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle.


Share and discuss “All hail the spelling champ” on social media.