This year? Next Tuesday features the same type of written round (albeit administered in one day), followed by two oral rounds for everyone on Wednesday (3 points each), and then no more than the top 50 (of 293) scoring spellers proceeding to ESPN on Thursday morning. What this means is that there's a real need for the organizers to ensure that the words in these two oral rounds are distributed fairly in terms of difficulty -- or, as I put it during last year's first oral round:
Suppose you're Charles Smith, representing Hagerstown, MD. The four spellers before you receive "quandary," "ethanol," "brigadier" and "chary". Then you're asked to spell ahn-uh-MASS-tuh-kon, "a collection or listing of words especially in a specialized field." Yeah, life's not fair sometimes.Those first two oral rounds will be on ESPN360 and not broadcast. By comparison, last year's day one (also internet-only) featured the one oral round in which everyone participated, followed by the cut-down announcement and two sudden-death elimination rounds from which 45 spellers emerged. In other words, we've gone from three oral rounds on Wednesday, in two of which people can be eliminated, to having two oral rounds from which no one will be immediately eliminated, but still ending up with about the same number of spellers for Thursday morning.
One person I'm hoping to see again on Thursday is three-timer Kennyi Aouad of Terre Haute, Indiana, who's been invited to address all the spellers on opening day to calm them down. Why Kennyi? Watch this classic Bee video. Kennyi has said that if he wins, he hopes to help pay for his brother's college tuition and finance a family trip to Ghana, from which his parents came to America. If you find a great story about one of this year's competitors, let us know.