I remember the opportunity to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee all too well. I was in third grade when two other classmates and I were taken into the hallway during recess, where we were told that we had been selected to participate in the Post-Standard Spelling Bee. The Post-Standard is a Syracuse-based newspaper that sponsors a spelling bee starting point, if you will. There were many more minor spelling bees to attend before any of us could go to Washington D.C. I accepted the challenge and practiced with a book full of words for the next few weeks.
On the day of the bee, we were at a local high school where we sat in the auditorium for a few hours studying and going over the rules. After the formalities were finished, it was time for the test. We all walked into the cafeteria and there were piles of specific pens that we had to use for reasons I still do not understand to this day. We were given a list of 25 words to spell that the instructors read aloud. After the first word, I realized I had absolutely no chance of winning. In fact, the only word that I was 100 percent sure about was the word “chocolate” because I had been watching “SpongeBob Squarepants” and there was an episode about them trying to sell chocolate bars, but I digress. I had a fun time and placed fairly low, but for other children, it is their dream to win.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is always intense, but this year the pressure increased. A major rule change in the oral portion has the participants focusing on so much more than just spelling the word. In addition to spelling the word, the participant must now give the definition as well.
This rule change is a terrible idea for two reasons. Reason one: prior to this change, each participant was entitled to the language of origin, alternate pronunciations, part of speech, an example of the word used in a sentence and the definition. With the new rule, the definition cannot be read, so there could be a problem with homonyms. However, if the speller asks for any of the above then they should be fine. Reason two: it is technically no longer a spelling bee; it is now an oral vocabulary quiz. It is stressful enough for a participant to try to spell words in front of a large crowd and television audience with only two minutes at the most, but the addition of the rule can make that two minutes seem even shorter because they have to have enough time to spell the word and give the definition.
A possible reason for adding the rule is to eliminate participants faster and reduce the amount of “dead air” on television. If a viewer were watching it live, they could hear nothing for 30 seconds straight and that gives them an uncomfortable feeling. The addition of this rule could speed up the elimination process and make for more entertaining television.
Some possible participants view this new rule as a challenge and are looking forward to seeing it in action in the upcoming months.
What viewers will probably see a lot of in this upcoming Scripps National Spelling Bee is a lot of participants spelling the word right and then giving the incorrect definition of it after they’ve taken almost two minutes just to spell it. If this rule stays, then they should rename the contest: spelling is not the main focus of the Scripps National Spelling Bee anymore.