The 2008 Spelling Bee was one of my highlights of Catholics Schools Week. Brittany was in the top two of the 5th grade, and so competed against eight other spellers from the 4th through 8th grade.
On the left are the nine contestants ready to go.
On the right is the 3rd place finisher with two of her classmates who cheered her on and cheered her up after her elimination.
Chicken Korma was on the celebration menu yesterday evening at one of her favorite restaurants.
I was on the phone with my younger brother for a few hours earlier tonight. He found my 3rd place medal from the 1972 McQuaid Jesuit Spelling Bee I competed in when I was in 8th grade. Lots of study and preparation went into that competition for a four-year full scholarship.
I remember Sister Mary Ellen, my grade school’s principal, who was a fanatic about the spelling bee. She kept lists from the bee going back twenty-five years. I also read the dictionary that year in preparation.
I told Brittany the story of how I was so confident I was going to win, but I was worried because I didn’t really want to go to the all-boys Jesuit school. My mom told me to do my best and it would all work out.
Which, of course, it did. By finishing third, I received a medal and no scholarship offer. I didn’t know that medal was still in someone’s possession. That will be a nice keepsake to give to my favorite speller.
Congratulations to Brittany on her accomplishment. Not being a natural speller, I admire those who do it with such ease. The question is whether it is a learned ability or an innate disposition. My wife, who heads the English department at a large suburban high school, leans toward the latter. I tend to agree. The spelling of many English words, despite my three university degrees, just don’t make sense to me. I repeatedly refer to the dictionary. (I have much better luck with the more logical spellings of German and Italian words.) What do you and your readers think?
Maybe a bit of both. Brittany is a voracious reader, so she gets exposed to words. My wife and I don’t pamper her with answers to “What does — mean?” so she looks things up herself. The reliance on spell-check and the advent of television seem to me to have eroded spelling skills in the adult and child realms, but that could just be my curmudgeonly opinion.
I think it might be 70% disposition, as I remember having an ease with foreign languages, and even my third grade teacher giving me lessons in Spanish and Italian. She saw something there I didn’t really get till I took Latin in high school and a whole bunch of the light bulbs turned on.
Spelling always made sense to me and I never quite understood why my sister struggled so with it. When we were kids, she read as much as I did.