February 3, 2009

Memoirs of a Spelling Bee Drop-Out

What do the words "wiseacre," "beachcomber," and "vanadium" have in common? They are all three the words that have caused me to crash-and-burn in spelling bees.


So wayyyyyyy back in the day, I used to be a spelling bee whiz. I entered in the school spelling bee in both 7th and 8th grades and won first place both years, bringing home beautiful trophies that have long since been lost. However, I can still remember my English teacher showing our class the trophy that first year. Never had my heart desired a single object more! As I wrote earlier, sports were NOT my thing (what with my inability to walk straight), so if I were ever going to win anything, spelling would have to be it. I promptly signed up, took my word packet home, studied my guts out by copying each word down 5 times each in a notebook, and I endlessly harassed my mom to quiz me (thanks Mom, for being such a sport!).


Once I made it past the school spelling bees and went to the district competition, I still did well. The first year, I came in third place, losing on the word "wiseacre," something I had never heard of before. Ah well... at least I had my school trophy and a lovely certificate to show how far I'd come, but I was disappointed to have dropped out so close to being able to go the state competition (only the top 2 moved on).


The following year I was primed to win again. Once again I won first place in the school competition and I was pumped up and ready for the district competition. Unfortunately, the school I went to was in a pretty small, tight-knit certain-religious community, of which I was not. I won't say that there was outright prejudism by most people, but I will tell you that when it was time for the district competition, I was the only student who was told not only the wrong address for where the competition was being held, but even the wrong town. And this by the teacher who happened to talk A LOT about this particular religion in class and who knew that I was not one of "them."


That evening my family bundled into the car, drove the 15 miles to the other nearby town that we had been told was the place, and arrived to a completely empty parking lot and a building with all the lights turned off. After driving to the other school in town just to make sure we weren't confused, we flew the 15-miles back to the town we had started from, back to the high school it had been in the previous year, and what do you know? That parking lot was quite crowded! My mom dropped shy, 13-year-old me off at the front door with instructions to hustle, hustle, hustle! I ran in only to find the spelling bee already underway.


I made my way to the judges table. They originally told me that because I had already missed the first round, I was automatically disqualified. By this time my mom had arrived. To say she was ticked is the understatement of the century, so they relented and let me enter with the admonishment that I would have to spell two words in a row my first time up to the microphone. That seemed fair, so that's what I did, spelling both without a hitch. The next time through I also had to spell two words, this time because they had "mispronounced" the first word, even though I had spelled it correctly. This went on round after round until I was in the bottom three, once again.


At that point, I panicked. I had spelled many more words than the others at this point, and it was fairly obvious that I was being treated differently than the other contestants. Up to that point I had maintained my composure really well, but I finally gave in to a little paranoia. When the word "beachcomber" came up, I was convinced that it had to be a trick, it couldn't possibly be as easy as it sounded. I spelled it "beEchcomber" thinking that it must be something to do with the trees. Finally, I was out, once again in third place and not making it to state.


I have tried to not be bitter about this, and mostly I succeed. But every year, when the Scripps-Howard spelling bee hits the news, I can't help but wonder how I'd have done had I made it to state.


Several years ago at the university I entered a spelling bee being held for fun and a very nice grand prize, and once again I came in, you guessed it: third place. Today I entered again. The prize this year was a new MacBook, and my little heart was just as excited as it was years ago for that sparkly trophy. Last night, Braden held a dictionary and quizzed me on it until he declared me ready to go. Come on baby, Mama needs a new computer!


Anyhoo... today I made it through the preliminary rounds, and I was ONE, STINKING, SOLITARY word away from making it to the finals when I was given this beauty:


Vanadium.


"Huh?" What in the hell is that?


They used it in a sentence, gave me the language of origin, and finally the definition (chemical element with the symbol V and atomic number 23, just in case you were wondering), all to no avail.


* * SIGH * *


See you again next year...

2 comments:

Lo said...

I'm proud of you, kid. Often the distance between a loss and a win is a razor's edge.
Love you.

SOMETHING HAPPENED SOMEWHERE TURNING said...

Dude...you rock. I wish you the best next year. And I too am proud of you.

My Word V is: Hangsby.