Last week was the primary spelling bee at A’s school. While the CanSpell National Spelling Bee is for grades four and up, the school decided to hold a special “exhibition” for the primary students, and A was one of the students chosen to take part.
A was pretty excited about the whole thing, although he was also quite nonchalant about preparing for it. He seemed confident about his chances, but I had my doubts – he’s a terrific reader, but he’s very much a fonetik speller. I mean phonetic.
Due to a last second meeting with the corner office, I didn’t leave work until after the bee had started. I raced (legally) to the school and got to the gym about 20 minutes late. My heart sank a bit when I saw there were only five students left on stage, and A was nowhere to be found. I had missed his big moment, a fact he would be sure to remind me of repeatedly for the next three to four years.
Fortunately, it was just the grade ones wrapping up their competition. It was actually pretty thrilling stuff – spelling bees by their very nature are filled with tension and drama. I was literally hanging on every letter as these cute little kids completed each round. When one of the kids would insert a wrong letter, all the parents would let out a collective “awww”, followed by the judge’s bell.
After about 10 minutes of intense back and forth action, a grade one champion was crowned, and A took to the stage with about 20 other grade twos. He slouched in his chair in the back row and waited his turn.
A’s first word was “mouth”. He took a breath, repeated the word, and then spelled it correctly. Yay.
Rounds Two and Three
His next word was “icing”. Again, he got it right. He got the next one right, too, to advance to round four.
Having exhausted the words on the practice list, the teachers pulled out new words that the students hadn’t practiced. A’s word was “seven”, which he spelled correctly. A few students were eliminated in this round, and A advanced to round five with about seven other kids.
A’s next word was “school”. Oh oh, I thought, this one could be a challenge. A closed his eyes, repeated the word, and in a quiet voice said, “s…c…h…”
Then he stopped and backed up from the microphone. He shook his head, shrugged, and then began to walk back to his chair.
“Wait, A”, said the teacher, “you have 2 minutes to complete the word. You’re doing great.”
A shrugged again and sat down. The teacher walked over to him and they had a little conference. There were murmurs throughout the crowd of parents and students – this was the most drama we’d seen in the competition so far, and I wasn’t surprised that my son was at the center of it.
A eventually walked back to the mic, closed his eyes again, and in the quietest, cutest voice, said, “s…c…h…o…o…l”. I was proud of him for sticking with it, and started to think he actually had a chance to win the whole thing.
And then the judge rang the bell, indicating he’d spelled the word incorrectly. Apparently, at the very end of the word, he added an “e”. I didn’t hear the final letter at the back of the gym, but the judge’s decision was final.
A slowly walked through the audience, exchanging high-fives with some of his friends. His slumped shoulders, though, gave away his disappointment. He finally made his way to me and burst into tears. “It’s no fair,” he said, “they made me lose. I was going to win and they ruined it.” Sigh.
We spent the next fifteen minutes in the hall – he wanted to talk about how wrong the judge was, I wanted to talk about the meaning of sportsmanship and losing with grace. He eventually ran out of steam and we headed back to the gym just as they were taking a break. He made a bee line for the judge to state his case, and when I left, he was still huddled with her at the desk, trying in vain to get her to reverse the decision.
I’ll leave you with one of the greatest moments in spelling bee history…