What I can remember most: how many cameras there were in the front row of the ballroom of the Capitol Hilton, the barbecue where the tent almost took flight because of the gale-force winds, how annoyed the parents were when they didn't get to participate in the Rose Garden reception with President Reagan, and how funny it was that I got the word "xerography," considering that my dad was a service manager with Xerox at the time.The Bee begins next Wednesday morning.
What I couldn't seem to remember: how to spell "muniments." More on that later.
It was 1983, and I was a dorky Catholic-school 8th grader, representing the Norristown Times-Herald in the National Spelling Bee. There were only 137 of us that year, there was no written word round, and we didn't get those cool polo shirts that the kids get now. I took the train down to DC with my mom and one of the reporters from the Times-Herald, and my dad joined us later in the week for the actual competition days. I remember visiting the Vietnam Memorial for the first time, and making a rubbing of a name for my father -- a friend of his from the Army who had been killed early on in the "conflict" -- and I remember that my mom made friends with Blake Giddens' mom during our private White House tour.
Blake ended up winning the Bee that year, correctly spelling "ratatouille" after the second-place finisher ended it with an "i," and then finished the competition off with "Purim." Blake was a really nice kid, and he now serves as one of the Bee's judges.
When I think about the actual competition, I can't remember that much, beyond the nerves and the cameras and the lights. I know that my first word was "ghost," and I remember giggling a little as I spelled it. I made it through the first day unscathed, and ended up placing 18th overall. I also made it briefly onto ABC's World News Tonight, during Dick Schaap's annual story about the Bee. I was shown sitting in the middle of a row of empty chairs at some point during the second day, clutching a tiny koala bear toy that was my good luck charm. I also vaguely remember the "crying room," where we were ushered after hearing the dreaded "ding."
When I got back from DC, one of my mom's friends had made me a Bee scrapbook, containing all of the Times-Herald articles and a list of all of my words, including the dreaded "muniments"; I added to it with ticket stubs, photos, and my Ronald Reagan autograph.
Seeing how ultra-competitive the Bee has become saddens me a little bit. I remember sitting in a tiny theater in Montclair, NJ, alone, watching "Spellbound," and thinking that those kids weren't having nearly as much fun as I remember having during the Bee.
I wouldn't trade the experience for the world, and I am still one of the biggest Bee geeks around, but I think that some of the innocence and fun has been taken out of the competition. Kids study and study and study, and I don't know that they get as much joy and camaraderie out of the week as I did. Even so, I can't wait to see this year's competition.
Best Bee trivia note for me: Upon moving into my dorm at American University in August of 1987, I discovered that one of the guys across the hall was also a contestant in the 1983 Bee. I still talk to him -- because he ended up marrying my roommate.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
"I WOULDN'T TRADE THE EXPERIENCE FOR THE WORLD": Sure, we can talk about the National Spelling Bee all we want from our desks, but what's it really like on the inside? Regular commenter Heather Powell was a finalist in the 1983 Bee, and here's what she recalls:
Posted by Adam at 7:51 AM