National Spelling Bee loyalists persevere for 2 years

When the Scripps National Spelling Bee was canceled last year Due to the pandemic, Avani Joshi did not bemoan his lost year of preparation. She immediately turned to the study of competitions in her other favorite discipline: geography.

Then, about six months later, the 2020-21 geographic bee season was canceled, so she returned to spelling, confident Scripps would bring back the biggest academic competition on the calendar.

Avani also participates in the Science Olympiad and the quiz bowl. What if everything had been wiped out?

“I would dive into the books, of course. The books will always be there, so I can be sure I can count on the books, ”said the 13-year-old from Roscoe, IL. “I also like to code, so I have that too. I would try to learn a new language. My goal is actually to learn C ++ this year and, let’s see, I would dive into other things, honing my language skills, learning Spanish and Sanskrit.

The restless minds of Avani and other better spellings were taught lessons in patience and persistence as COVID-19 forced them to lock down. Speech therapists prepare for the bee all year round, drilling for hours a day, often with the help of expensive study guides and private trainers. Their competition window is small: spellings can’t compete after eighth grade, and kids rarely have more of a real chance to win.

The two-year gap between the bees has only reinforced the resolve of many spellings – including Avani, who will make the final Thursday night at an ESPN campus in Florida – to maximize their potential.

“My love for spelling is what kept me going. If you don’t really have a passion for spelling, your 40s could be really, really tough for you,” said fellow finalist Akshainie. Kamma, 13, from Round Rock. , Texas.

The disappointment of 2020 was felt the hardest by this year’s eighth graders, who were denied their last and best opportunity to win the Scripps Trophy and unsuccessfully asked the Cincinnati-based media company to host a virtual bee or limited participation.

Those who competed two years ago but were still eligible this year faced another challenge: lack of motivation.

“I got through it,” said Akshita Balaji, a 14-year-old semi-finalist from Herndon, Va. “My passion has diminished a bit. I was a little demotivated and everything, but I was still studying.

The bee itself has undergone major changes since the last in-person contest, which ended in a tie at eight because Scripps’ wordlist wasn’t strong enough to challenge spelling champions. Last December, Bee’s executive director Paige Kimble – herself a former champion – resigned.

J. Michel Durnil, a long-standing association leader, took over and guided the bee’s return in a mostly virtual format, by adding vocabulary questions and lightning tie-breaking to ensure that the bee would end with a single winner.

Only the 11 finalists will compete in person as the continued threat of COVID-19 made it too risky to plan months in advance for a large in-person gathering during the traditional bee place on the calendar, the week before Memorial Day. The bee’s first rounds stretched over a few weeks, ending with last Sunday’s semi-finals.

Changes in the bee’s rules and format often provoke strong reactions within the spelling community. Vocabulary questions, for example, had only been included in written tests before this year, and some believe they interfere with the singular ability of figuring out on the fly how to spell an unfamiliar, crazy sounding word.

But last year’s pandemic and cancellation put those minor changes into perspective.

“The knowledge, experience and learning that I have gained from the pandemic has definitely taught me how to adapt better,” said Vayun Krishna, a 14-year-old from Sunnyvale, Calif., Before d ‘to be eliminated in the semi-finals. “If that didn’t happen, if they had introduced the vocabulary, I’d be more freaked out, but now I feel like I’m taking it in stride.”

The bee in person is of course more than just a competition. It is a week-long celebration – healthy and shameless – that brings together a few hundred ambitious children who share a particular passion.

Akshainie learned valuable lessons from her fellow spellings in 2019, and she laments the loss of these social opportunities. Nonetheless, she believes she took advantage of the isolation.

“Before the pandemic, it was like everyone was looking at you and everyone was expecting something from you,” she said. “At home I was alone and could work for myself and not for everyone. “

Avani, who was nervous on stage two years ago and misspelled a word she knew, took advantage of the free time to embrace composure – “which means calm,” she said. explained, because it is spelling.

“I could work on meditation a lot, work on techniques to calm my nerves,” she said. “Yoga has also helped a lot over the past year. All of these things gave me time to work on my weaknesses, which were prevalent in sixth grade.


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