In this "text yourself crazy" world, there's a lot to be said about people who can still spell. The temptation to shortcut and abbreviate common vocabulary is a real threat to meaningful communication. As a teacher (and a fan of good grammar and spelling) I am appalled at some of the written work I receive from high school students today. They compose their essays like an elongated text message It's like their texting thumbs have taken over their language brains.
So when I hear about events that actually encourage developing language skills, like spelling, I am right there to support it. That is exactly what I did when I heard about Macy's 7th Annual Spelling Bee Contest. Macy's sponsored Spelling Bees in 27 locations throughout the country on three separate dates. Lucky for me, my local store at Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga, California was one of those stores. It was held last Saturday, September 15, in their Men's, Children's, and Home store. Contestants had to be between the ages of 8 and 11 and be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Registration was open one hour before the starting time of 2:00 p.m.. The first 50 entrants were eligible to compete for some cool prizes and of course, spelling fame.
I arrived about 15 minutes before the event started. There was a lot of commotion from the kids waiting in line to participate and from their supportive families and friends in the audience. A backdrop was created to stage the spelling bee. Besides Macy's, other sponsors included Reading is Fundamental and Radio Disney who MC'd the event and managed the prizes. You know, whenever Disney is involved, there is going to be a lot of energy in the room.
Each of the contestants had a number attached to a lanyard around their neck. That was their official identification for the event and it created the order for them to compete.
I've judged a few spelling bees in my time, so I was curious to see how the event was going to be scored. Much to my delight, the Scripps National Spelling Bee rules were followed. Under their regulations, the speller is told the word they are to spell. Upon repeating their word, the contestant can then ask the judges to do any of three requests: repeat the word, give the definition, or use the word in a sentence. After the word is spelled, the contestant then repeats the word one more time as a way to signify that that is their official response. The judges then determine whether or not the word was spelled correctly. If they told the speller that their word was spelled correctly, the participant went back to the end of the line to wait their next turn. If the word was spelled incorrectly, a bell was rung (ala The Gong Show from the 70's) and the child's participation was ended. My heart went out to the little people who got the bell. They looked so dejected even though they did receive some neat consolation prizes: a tote bag, a book, and a participant's button.
The first round was pretty easy. Everyone just breezed through. Beginning with the second round, the words got noticeably more difficult and included a lot of tricky compound words. The first contestant to bow out was #22 in the second round. As the Spelling Bee continued, I couldn't help but spell along in my head with the contestants. I figured I would have been excluded in the third round if I had been a participant. Sad, but true.(Have you ever tried to spell circumambulating or arachnid lately?)
In between rounds, I was impressed with how the Radio Disney kids led the contestants in exercises to relax their bodies and stimulate their minds. They also gave away prizes to contestants who could answer trivia questions about their programing. I learned that I have no idea what the latest Disney shows are all about. Have you heard about "Gravity Falls?" Apparently it is a popular cartoon. Hmmm....
I was impressed with the contestants. They were all dressed tastefully and they exhibited the best of manners. Whenever they requested to have a word repeated or a definition given or to hear it in a sentence, they always asked "Please" and said their "Thank Yous" as well. Good job parents in placing an importance on spelling values AND etiquette. Also, I could tell the participants took all this spelling very seriously. They were very prepared and they knew how to use the rules to their advantage. Such dedication.
After two hours and thirty five minutes and 18 rounds, it finally came down to the two finalists, a boy and a girl. Both had driven several hours from their hometowns to participate. The boy won by spelling a seven letter word that I had never heard of (and my vocabulary is pretty eclectic). He was awarded one year of online tutoring from Kaplan Tutoring, a $50 online gift card from Scholastic, a Radio Disney jacket, a backpack filled with school supplies, a $100 Macy's gift card, and an Apple Ipad 3. All for being a speller extraordinaire. (The poor runner up was in tears that she didn't win. She did get some nice consolation prizes. Poor girl).
Thank you Macy's for caring enough to support good communication and the education of our youth by sponsoring their annual spelling bee.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy's Spelling Bee. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.