Out of 11 million students who started their quest for the Holy Grail of spelling in August of 2018, only 564 made it to the big stage. By May 30, 2019, only 50 were left standing.
The 92nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee was one for the history books, and I’m very lucky to have been there to watch it all happen.
I got into the National Spelling Bee through a backdoor program called RSVBee. Even though I had placed top 10 in the Colorado State Spelling Bee for the third consecutive year, I missed the cut. RSVBee gave me a chance to participate in the National Spelling Bee, and even though I had to cover the plane ticket and hotel room, there was no way I was going to pass that up.
Fortunately, I was the recipient of the merit-based 2019 Bill Schaefer National Spelling Bee Scholarship. This scholarship is provided by the Faulk family, the family of National Spelling Bee finalist Jake Faulk, and named after Bill Schaefer, who coached me for five years and runs the Denver Public Schools semantics team.
RSVBee has doubled the number of competitors in recent years, making the competition much longer. The second round alone took eight and a half hours. No speller had to sit onstage for the duration of all eight hours – there were so many of us we had to come onstage in three different groups.
One good thing is that the National Spelling Bee provides accommodations for learning disabilities. This is something that’s extremely important, as children with disabilities such as myself don’t always get a level playing field. The Bee officials reached out to me and were more than willing to negotiate a solution that would best accommodate me, and I’m extremely thankful for that.
Instead of taking the preliminaries test with 563 other kids shuffling papers and fidgeting with their chairs, I was allowed to take the test separately with double review time. During the onstage rounds I was a part of, I left the stage after I spelled my word instead of waiting for hours for the round to end.
It shouldn’t be understated how impactful having these accommodations are for students with disabilities. Instead of having to participate in a competition where the rules are against them, they can compete to the best of their abilities.
The preliminaries test was Round One.
Going into Round Two, the first on-stage round, I was fairly confident, since the words were from a 600-word study list we had been given a couple months prior. I got my word (dudgeon). I knew it, I spelled it, and I could breathe easy for a few more hours.
But Round Three was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. The words were now at random, and the difficulty levels were all over the board. Words could be as easy as deceit or as difficult as parvanimity.
My turn came. I stepped up to the microphone, took a deep breath, and got a word I had never heard in my life and had no idea where to start. In retrospect, rumbustical seems like an easy enough word, but at the time I was baffled.
After about a minute of debating with myself, I decided to get it done with and just spell. I spelled, I got it right, and I was more surprised with myself than anyone else was with me
In the end, I made it to the top 100. Having spelled both my onstage words correctly, as well as scoring 21 out of 30 on the preliminaries test, I tied for 51st place. This meant I wouldn’t advance to the next round and that rumbustical had indeed been the last word I would ever spell in a competition.
I am, admittedly, an extremely competitive person, which is what led me to the spelling bee, but what I remember most is time spent with the other spellers. The Bee hosts two major social events, which I spent goofing off with new friends and making memories none of us are likely to forget.
Here’s some advice to anyone hoping for a shot at the Crown: Enjoy the journey. No matter how many words you spell correctly, if you don’t have fun it’s not going to be something you look back on fondly. Because, in the end, the quest for the Holy Grail is more important than if you actually find it. So grab the dictionary and don’t stop bee-lieving. Good luck.