Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Human Drama of (Non-) Athletic Competition

Did any of you do spelling bees in the just-pre-pubescent period? I did. And this brilliant, brilliant post by my buddy Jim (in which I learn he made it to the National bee as a kid) has me thinking about it. I can tell you about all four years of my career. And I will, like it or not.

In fifth grade, I won the local bee. It sure seemed like there were hundreds of kids there. My great-grandmother, may she rest in peace, worked with me on the words. She was a task-master who took absolutely no shit. I was quite cocky going into that bee. My dad took me aside and said "You're a good speller, but remember there will be a whole lot of kids there, and all of them are good spellers." I sort of ignored him. But I won the damn thing, spelling "luculent" for the victory. I made it to the next level, but bowed out on the word "prase."

Sixth grade was rough. Elly arrived from Romania. Her parents drove her hard in that immigrant way. At the first bee, we knocked out everybody, and slugged it out one by one for several rounds. There was a lot at stake...only the top kid from each school went on to the next level, so in spite of vanquishing the rest of the field, only one of us would go on. In a move that would be called ironic by people who don't understand irony, I misspelled "imperturbable." Elly won. My year was done. I cried. Elly went on to the next bee, where, on order of her parents, she misspelled the first word she came to so that she could "concentrate on her studies." She was a fifth grader! Not that I'm still bitter. She went on to be valedictorian and double-register at MIT and Harvard. When I saw her at our ten-year reunion (she skipped a grade to be up in my class), she was very much at peace, had a sweet husband, and announced she was "only a photographer." My response: "Was the word 'only' really necessary in that sentence?"

Seventh grade. I'm in junior high, and I get on a roll. I skip the little elementary school bee Elly knocked me out in, sail through the district bee, and barely hang on to make the top 25 in the county. I'm going to STATE! The Colorado/Wyoming State Bee (which makes Colorado and Wyoming half a state each)! I didn't make the oral round there, and some girls from a Catholic School (and their bitch parent chaperone) moved our coats, etc. to take our great seats when we went to the bathroom. Mom got her back...wrote the Mother Superior. We got a letter of apology back. Not from the Mother Superior, not from the bitch chaperone. From the kids. Who were on stage in the final round, and didn't even know what was happening.

By eighth grade, I was less interested in spelling, as my heterosexuality was beginning to manifest itself more clearly. I went out in the district bee on an easy word..."beguile."

Surely some of my readers have spelling stories! Share them! But read Jim's story first!


John B. said...

In the 4th grade, I was my school's representative in the city spelling bee (approx. 30 or so schools)...I was so nervous that I misspelled 'which' as 'wich'.

Came back the next year, came in 3rd place in the city.

I still have nightmares about the word 'which'....

TeacherRefPoet said...

Those homophones are a bitch, John. Or do I mean a "witch"?

Alison said...

I came in second in our district-level spelling bee in seventh grade. The word that got me was "variegated," which I spelled with an "a" instead of an "e." Still, it was districts, which was major comeback from two years prior, when I had brain-farted on "canoe." I could hear myself spelling "c-a-n-u-e" while simultaneously thinking "U? U? Whaddaya mean U!?!"