Even in today’s world of autocorrect and emojis, there’s still something special about good old-fashioned spelling bees. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of viewers who are glued to their televisions for the Scripps National Spelling Bee each year.
I always enjoyed taking part in spelling bees as a little girl because they offered the perfect opportunity to combine my competitive spirit and love of language. I even made it all the way to the state championship while attending elementary school in Texas. I will never forget when I received the word “gorilla” and then asked for a definition. I thought I was pretty clever for not getting tricked by the homophone “guerrilla,” but my fellow spellers all started giggling…especially when the moderator explained that it was a type of hairy ape. I admit, I might have laughed too if not for my nerves. Fortunately, I made it through that round but later stumbled on another word, which I have never misspelled since!
Those memories came flooding back when I walked into the multipurpose room at Tenaya Middle School on Monday for the start of our Merced City School District spelling bees. We use the same format as the Merced County Office of Education, which requires students to write the words on a piece of paper. The participants each begin with four tabs, and one is removed every time they misspell a word. Once all four tabs are gone, they are eliminated.
The contest kicked off with the top three fourth grade spellers from each of our elementary schools. The suspense was palpable as our students carefully wrote down their answers and anxiously waited to find out if they were correct. Their list of words included fulcrum, goulash, jetsam, and jostle. Eventually, the field of 39 was whittled down to the top three: Nicholas Trinh from Rivera Elementary and Burbank students Lilly Lakireddy and Damian Gutierrez. After the words kapok and kindling, Nicholas emerged victorious with Lilly taking second place and Damian finishing third. All three received enthusiastic applause from the crowd of parents, teachers, and administrators before receiving their certificates and trophies.
The excitement continued through Thursday as our fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders all tackled their own challenging word lists. In fact, the sixth graders did so well with words such as apocryphal, pterodactyl, and subterfuge that they had to move on to the middle school word list to determine the winners after two intense hours of competition. I was proud to see how well all of the participants performed and to know the amount of studying and concentration that went into their success. I also felt genuine empathy for those who didn’t finish as high as they hoped. I can say from experience that they’ll probably never forget the words they missed, but that’s all part of the learning process.
Many will also get another shot at reaching their goals very soon. The top two spellers from each grade level at each school will have a chance to compete in the countywide spelling bees hosted by MCOE in December. Last year, our students swept the top three spots in the middle school contest, and six of the top 10 finishers in the elementary school competition were MCSD students – including the first place winner.
We’ve got a great group going to represent the district again this year, and we want to wish all of our students the best of luck. P.S. Don’t be afraid to ask for a definition!
Sara Sandrik, an Emmy Award-winning former journalist, is the public information officer for the Merced City School District. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.