The Local Spelling Bee, Wherein Akeelah Did Not Attend

I have never seen Akeelah and The Bee, and I’m thinking now that it might have been a prerequisite for attending my first ever elementary school Spelling Bee.  I was woefully unprepared for the process and – dare I say it? – shenanigans that would ensue.

To begin with, I didn’t understand that the school-level Bee was a stepping stone to Bigger Bees and that there were, in fact, rounds of Bees going on all over the city on the same day.  I thought it was just all the kids in my kids’ school standing up on stage and spelling words chosen from the list that was sent home with my older son a few days before.  Last man or woman standing gets a certificate or a medal and off we go to 6th period.  Seemed harmless enough to me.  But OH NOZ!  It was evidently a much bigger deal that I had originally anticipated.

I’m going to try not to make sport of those involved in Spelling Bees (it will be hard) because I know – well, now I know – just how important it is to some.

To begin with, you don’t get to sit with your child because there are seating assignments and the kids are arranged in order by grade and last name.  That right there threw me off because the list of participants (contestants? indentured servants? kids who wanted to get out of gym that day?) that I had was in full-on alpha order.  So either everyone on the list was in the same grade, or the sweetheart of a little girl who told me how the list was organized was incorrect.  She later made it through the second round of The Bee so I can presume a certain level of intelligence.  It must’ve just been an off-day for her, organization wise.  Anyway, the adults sat on one side of the room and the kids, in alpha-only order, were on the other side.

Side note:  I went to The Bee after my 11 year old (who actually turned 11 on the day of The Bee) told me he was expecting me to be there.  This is in stark contrast to myself at the same age, who wished my own mother to be anywhere but with me.  Mars would do, in a pinch.  I was thrilled to go, never having been to such an event, and thrilled-er still that he actually wanted me there.

Once everyone was in and properly situated, the Spelling Bee Queen Bee, as I will call her in the absence of knowledge of the actual term used in Spelling Bee Parlance, proceeded to read us the riot act explain the rules.  It seemed pretty simple to me…someone says a word, the kid spells it.  If they are right, then on to the next round!  If they are wrong, they sit off to the side till the round is over and hit the road after that.  And that’s sort of what it was, with a whole lot of procedural nonsense in between.  I think, personally, that the SOX folks got a hold of the Spelling Bee Queen Bee of all the Spelling Bees and interjected a lot of Six Sigma mumbo-jumbo just to earn a large consulting fee.  But whatever, the kids didn’t seem to mind all the Do’s and Don’ts so who was I to complain?

I sat by the Mom of last year’s winner and realized very quickly that as I voiced my comments about how crazy it all seemed, she was totally on board with the crazy.  Her child, it seemed, had been asked to participate.  He hadn’t wanted to, you see, but was such an asset to the school’s Spelling Bee Arsenal that he couldn’t help but go.  She said that after last year’s performance, her child had been approached about hiring a tutor to help him advance into further rounds this year.  Incredulous, I asked what on earth a tutor would do?  “Well, you know, read the words and have the child spell them back.”  So, essentially, the same thing I had my third grader do for his older brother while I cleaned up the kitchen night before.  People pay someone to do that??  I wish I’d known…Momma needs some new jeans and Michael could have been out there earning some green…

She went on to tell me that kids were caught cheating at one of the later rounds last year.  Cheating?  On a spelling bee?  How do you do that?  The kids are up on a stage in front of God and everyone, and this being a small private Christian school I do mean that literally, so how on earth are they going to cheat?  As it turns out, the parents were helping the kids cheat by holding up signs with the words on them, scratched in haste as soon as the Spelling Bee Queen Bee called it out.  ARE.YOU.KIDDING.ME?  What does that teach a kid about following the rules and winning on your own merit?  To say nothing of the fact that hello?  THERE IS NO PRIZE MONEY AT STAKE.  So you are essentially…what?  Cheating to win bragging rights that you can spell?  Which is relevant how in the world of spell check and Google?  I don’t get it.

John made it through the first round with ease, as did most of the other 29 gym class dodgers contestants.  The second round tripped up a whole lot more of the kids.  It’s the “false sense of security” theory:  after you nail your first word, you think you’ve got it made so you let your guard down.  And when you do that, all of a sudden “rugged” becomes “ruggead” and WHAM!, you’re out.

It was quite the experience for me…we left after the round John lost on and that was fine by me.  He was totally cool with his performance.  “I just wanted to make it past the first round,” he said.  That’s my boy, aiming for the moon.

As for my experience, I am happy that he participated and that he can check that off his bucket list.  And secretly I’m happy he didn’t go any further because the idea of having to sit through that again and again as kids try to get to the top of the pile of Good Spellers in the US would have driven me crazy.  Sorry, Spelling Bee Lovers!  And good job, John.  Glad you did it, will scrapbook the page so you can tell your kids all about it.  =)

P.S. I have no idea how last year’s winner made out.  And no, I am not going to find his Mom and ask.