Written by Christine Russo Friday, 08 March 2013 00:00
In the age of “spell-check” and “auto-correct” the accurate spelling of words independently from smart phones and computers seems to no longer be of relevance. However the tradition of the spelling bee still reigns.
Recently, students from schools across Nassau and Suffolk County competed for the winning title of the Scripps Regional Spelling Bee at Hofstra University. Participants from grades 4 through 8 competed in hopes of advancing to the National Bee in Washington D.C. later this spring. Anxiously sitting under stage lights and fidgeting in their seats, students waved to reassuring faces in the audience.
For Island Trees middle schooler David Wendt, his accomplishment was making it all the way to the final top seven spellers. Wendt prepared for the Bee “every single night for a month. It was a lot of work,” the 11-year-old said.
Even still, he still felt the pressure. “In the beginning I was nervous but as I was advancing through the rounds I was getting more confident each time I got a word right,” he said. With support in the crowd like mom Lisa and best friend Sohrab, Wendt left feeling proud of himself. As for a celebration, they headed straight to Friendly’s for “the biggest, messiest ice cream sundae,” said mom Lisa.
“It’s a little like a Broadway show,” said Melissa Connolly, the Vice President of University Relations of Hofstra, who conducted the competition. The Bee is a live event so there is plenty of room for mistakes. It’s that “nerve-wracking nature” that she likes as well as seeing the kids accomplish something they didn’t think they could. “It’s a hard thing to do,” Connolly said.
During the preliminary round students were asked to introduce themselves before spelling their word. The personalities of the different spellers were showcased. Some nervously approached the microphone, eyes on the ground, hair covering their faces and feet dragging on the floor, while others, like one young boy, confidently glided to the front of the stage proudly standing in front of the audience. “Good morning people!” he said brightly, breaking the intense nature of the competition and gaining a chuckle from the crowd.
The way in which students spell and perform varies. Each participant has different methods of spelling the words, explained head judge and moderator, Dr. Carole Clark Papper. “Some are visualizers,” she said. “Some will tap the rhythm on their leg or write with their fingers on their hands.”
The preliminary round started off with words like “balcony” and “manicure.” The pronouncer, and head of journalism at Hofstra University, Bob Papper, said that much of the competition is “just luck of the draw.” Sometimes an older student may have a seemingly easier word than the next speller but Papper says he follows the word list generated by the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
A loud and swift ring of a bell was the indicator that the word was misspelled. Some students let out an audible sigh of relief or disappointment after completing the word. Chocolate chip cookies and apple juice were waiting backstage to comfort those who had just lost.
Towards the end of the day after an hour break the remaining few contestants went back on stage until there was a winner. Some were visibly tired, fidgeting in their seats and slouched over with their arms resting on their knees. Head judge and moderator of the event, Dr. Papper, says she could feel the tension of the students. “I get so stressed out for them,” explained the mother of four. “I like seeing them accomplish something,” she added.
This year’s winner was Setauket 8th-grader Isabelle Scott. Scott beat 99 other competitors for the regional title. Scott will go on to compete on the national level in Washington D.C. this spring.