Tenacity, Valor, Determination, Articulacy, Endurance, Camaraderie and……..

Posted on Posted in 2011

…many other qualities could be witnessed at the recently concluded 2011 Masti Spelling Bee. It was a sheer display of talent from kids no older than 10 – some of them were even as young as 5 years old! But age did not seem to make any difference at this spelling bee, where the kids prevailed over the difficult words, at least words which I personally perceive as difficult, that were continuously thrown at them. Like in any other spelling bee, there was the ubiquitous drama, controversies, and stories of valor and determination. It was all well worth our trip to Virginia, where the bee was held on Saturday, May 7th.

I have been to quite a few spelling bees, but every time I am reminded of how amazing it is to see kids demonstrate their talents and other remarkable qualities they possess. Different kids, different levels of talent, different circumstances, but the underlying qualities are the same – they are all still kids with the same immense potential to achieve greater things in life, many a times making the adults feel as if there is something amiss about themselves.

Although the Masti organizers had published a bee schedule which declared 5 PM as conclusion of the bee, I figured that it would be a longer day, even prior to the start of the Bee, as a total of 225 spellers were registered to participate in this annual event. The written phase of the bee started at 10 AM and wrapped up around 11:30 AM, but it took a couple of hours for the organizers to tabulate the results. At approximately 1:30 PM, an announcement was made that 66 spellers had advanced to the next phase of the competition. At this point, I am sure it may have dawned on some of the spellers who had advanced to the next phase of the competition, the audience, and the Masti Spelling Bee organizers that they might have to stay at the venue for a while. The persistent spellers fought to remain on stage for as long as they could and successfully spell the words that were given to them. They were valiant and dedicated, and it took over six hours from the time of the announcement to the culmination of the competition.

If you are an avid follower of spelling bees, make a note of this name – Jae Canetti—because in the years to come, I am sure you will hear more about Jae and his accomplishments at major spelling bees. Simply put, Jae is a champion in the making. Late in the evening, after 8 PM on Saturday May 7, 2011, Jae was crowned the co-champion of the 2011 Masti Spelling Bee . He is a strong speller who maintained a cool demeanor as he stuck to the same routine before spelling each and every word. He was right on the money and remained confident throughout each round of the bee. There was not a word on the pronouncer’s list that stumped Jae. He tackled words like kumquat and fracas, and other words of a similar difficulty, if not higher. At one point, he even had the judges scrambling and flipping through the dictionary when he assertively reminded them that the word wisteria was a variant and could be spelled two different ways. He certainly demonstrated that one doesn’t necessarily have to be a veteran of the Scripps National Spelling Bee to become known as a champion speller. In fact, he displayed qualities that indicated that he was as good as, if not better than, spellers who may have had the experience of participating at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I make a comparison here, because for me, the Scripps National Spelling Bee is no doubt a measuring stick, and I am sure that these young spellers have an ambition of participating at the Scripps National Spelling Bee someday. In the case of Jae, his father told me that Jae stood second in his county bee, the final qualifier for the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee in his region. So he is very close, and the odds of young Jae making it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee next year seem pretty high.

The organizers did not quite anticipate that the bee would result in co-champions. As challenging as the words were, they did not seem to be tough enough for the final 6-8 participants. This is despite my perception that the words were pretty darn difficult, and in fact, that some of these words were comparable to those used in certain phases of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This may get the organizers to consider reviewing the rules of the bee in the future and also expand the source used for the bee. Right now, the words are chosen solely from the MW Elementary Dictionary, which has approximately 32,000 entries, all exclusive of any references to the etymology of the words.

The poise and determination in these young kids is absolutely astounding. The child who was named the second runner up behind the co-champions competed with a bandaged left eye for the entire day. Just one look at his bandage made my eyes watery, but neither the bandage nor the pain stopped Abhishek Alamsetty from participating at the spelling bee. He was often forced to hold the bandage covering his eye in place when it was his turn to spell. During the award ceremony, I was told that his parents had rushed him to the Emergency Room (ER) the morning of the bee in order to get his left eye examined. His parents wanted to return home from the ER so he could rest and recuperate, but NO!! – little Abhishek was determined to take part in the bee. He did an amazing job of maintaining focus and poise on stage in spite of the distracting pain. So kudos to Abhishek!

Participants at the Masti 2011 spelling bee included children of incredibly young ages. One of my favorites whom I can distinctly recall was not even a kindergartner, yet this girl was participating for the third time at the bee. I was told that she participated in the 2009 Masti Spelling Bee when she was merely 3 years old. My first thought was, Are you kidding me???!!! Lori Ann Madison, this precocious young child who barely reached the microphone, tackled words such as chauffeur and aeronautically with ease. The audience was at awe seeing her spell boldly on the stage. I, for one, was impressed and eager to see her spell because I remembered her from the previous year, as she was so cute and made quite the impression with her spelling abilities even at the age of four. Though she may have been of a smaller stature in comparison to many of the other spellers, she emanated a unique confidence and vivacity as she intrepidly stood before the judges. Unfortunately, and much to my disappointment, Lori Ann misspelled the word doughty – only because she did not take the time to understand the meaning of this word, which is a close homonym to dowdy. I could see her face fall in visible disappointment when the judges rang the bell.  While conferring with the bee organizers, I got to know that during one of the study sessions offered by the Masti Spell organization, Lori Ann distinguished herself from the sea of students. Not only was Lori Ann the only one in the group who was able to spell the word euglena, but, as I understand, she went on to explain that she had read about it in her biochemistry book. Again, Are you kidding me??!! A 5 year old reading a book on biochemistry? Let alone knowing that a word like biochemistry exists!! Of course, she got a huge standing ovation from the audience. She is someone whom, if she continues her interest in spelling, we are sure to hear more about in the spelling bee circuit in years to come.

I cannot conclude this post without expressing my appreciation of the judges at this bee who conducted themselves with exceptional professionalism. There were a couple of situations when objections were raised, but the judges took their time to review the objections as they repeatedly listened to the tapes before making their decision. They took their jobs very seriously and handled each of these objections with utmost care. I was particularly impressed with the clarity in which the judges explained their decision.

What was truly touching on stage during the award ceremony was when both of the co-champions attempted to tell each other that they should take the trophy home while the organizers ordered a second one. I don’t think these spellers looked at each other as rivals – instead they simply focused on spelling their words correctly. This is exactly what I was talking about in my previous post. These were 9 year old kids speaking from their heart, unscripted and without any input from the parents. What great ambassadors to spelling bees and the young(er) generation!!!

The organizers have already updated the Masti Spell website with details on the 2012 event. I would definitely encourage anyone interested in spelling bees (and in fourth grade or below) to review the information regarding the bee and participate in the coming years. Regardless of the individual outcome, it certainly provides exposure and harvests the benefits from participating in spelling bees.

– Mirle

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