“That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
“I’m telling you this ’cause you’re one of my friends.
“My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.”
From: On Beyond Zebra
by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 1955
This morning, the 90th annual National Spelling Bee begins with a written preliminary competition. Hopeful students from all over the country have gathered in Washington, D. C. today, to vie for the $40,000 prize from Scripps and an engraved trophy, a $2,500 savings bond and a complete reference library from Merriam Webster, $400 worth of reference works and a 3-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica on-line. And of course, the recognition. The student’s school also gets a plaque and prizes are awarded to the finalists. An amazingly big deal!
Scripps made the bee tougher after ties in 2014 and 2015. Now the last two spellers need to get through three times as many words as in years past. But, another set of co-champions was crowned in 2016.
Oral and written competitions go many, many rounds. Elimination is usually swift at the start. The final round will be broadcast on ESPN. Here’s how to watch the whole match, beginning tomorrow with the oral competition:
The ESPN app will carry all preliminary rounds live on May 31, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a break from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.
Live coverage of the finals will begin June 1 at 10 a.m. on ESPN2, ESPNU (Play Along Version) and the ESPN app.
The competition will conclude on ESPN, ESPNU and WatchESPN at 8:30 p.m.
NOTE: all times are Eastern Time.
Schools participate on the local level. My grandson was chosen to compete two years in a row, but didn’t make it to Washington. My daughter, his mom, also did not go to Washington. I didn’t qualify for my school’s event, but I like to sing the Jiminy Cricket song E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A.
My dad was an excellent speller. He attributes his skill to his high school study of Latin. He liked to trace many English words to their Latin roots. Great dinner table conversations started this way. We all learned how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. We knew what it meant, too. At 28 letters, my parents told us it was the longest English word. Then in 1964, Mary Poppins came out with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious at 34 letters. It was added to the OED in 1986.
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (45 letters) though, is recognized as the longest word, according to The National Puzzlers' League at the opening session of their 103rd semi-annual meeting in 1939. So even though they may have the best intentions, parents can sometimes be wrong.
Lots of parents are supporting lots of kids in their enthusiastic and optimistic participation at the National Spelling Bee. Also, parents are Little League coaches, Boy and Girl Scouts leaders, and Summer Reading Library Challenge encouragers.
Lots of parents are just good general life lesson deliverers. So as Dr. Seuss said at the end of On Beyond Zebra (see quote above),
“There's no limit to how much you'll know,
depending how far beyond zebra you go.”