Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Putting a spelling bee in their bonnets

  • Print

I pictured it as one of those memories you always hear aging men talk about:

"I'll never forget the day my old man took me to Game 4 of the 1950 World Series at Yankee Stadium," they'll say.

That's the way I wanted my boys to remember the Super Bowl for Nerds, the World Series of Words, the life-altering experience I was about to unveil to them -- the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

It was a Tiger Mom move for sure.

But with some recent gems like "yoripiyans" (Europeans) coming from my eight-year-old, I thought it wouldn't be bad to focus a little on spelling with my boys.

First of all, the spelling bee stage at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor is enough to impress any kid.

A huge, glowing, made-for-TV affair, we had to go through badge passes and security checks and metal detectors to get inside. I got press credentials, they got wrist bands. A heavily tattooed cop kitted out in tactical gear supervised my purse search. I had their attention.

Within about 15 minutes, they were hooked. The tension in the room, the tiny spellers on stage, the applause, the commercial breaks. It was all so exciting.

They pawed through the program and found their favourite spellers.

When Grace Remmer, 14, spelled "emmeleia" correctly, they were dazzled.

"Can we meet Grace?" my six-year-old asked. "We really want to meet Grace."

"Maybe we can get her autograph," the other one suggested.

As each speller worked through the parts of speech, language of origin and Greek roots, my kids were riveted.

"Is that word French?" my eight-year-old whispered to me, after the announcer gave the word "envoªtement" to the next speller.

"Zut alors!" I thought. Maybe I have a speller on my hands.

The only word game I've really played with them was on a recent road trip, when we thought it would be fun to pronounce all our names backwards. That lead to pronouncing certain words and phrases backwards and not 10 minutes after Alutep, both kids came up with "parc", "ssa" and, sadly, "cuff."

So we didn't go back to spelling games any time soon.

But here was a chance to see other kids being celebrated, idolized for working hard and sticking to the books.

As far as role models go, popular culture presents kids with Hannah Montana, but rarely do they get to see kids glorified for any non-glossy achievement. Packaged with ESPN's expert commentary and slick presentation, the National Spelling Bee should be required watching for all American kids.

Within 30 minutes of entering that ballroom, my kids were wolf-whooping for the correct spelling of myelogenous and trichocercous.

"Look, I'm Vanya," my six-year-old said at a commercial break, and he imitated the campy Jersey accent that 11-year-old Vanya Shivashankar performed in her televised personality profile.

My eight-year-old couldn't sit, he was so excited. The six-year-old mourned when Sriran Hathwar, 13, was knocked out by the word "ptyalagogue" in Round 13. "He was my favourite," my kindergartner said.

Not a bad role model to have.

They insisted on staying until the end, past 10 p.m., when Arvind Mahankali slayed the German language that has bedeviled him for so many years by correctly spelling "knaidel."

The confetti popped, cameras snapped and Arvind was handed the huge, shiny trophy.

We were all amped.

On the way back home in the car, I asked my kids what they had learned seeing the spelling bee. Was it all the hard work the kids did? Their poise on the stage? That intellect should be celebrated?

The six-year-old answered: "I learned that when you win a big trophy, you lift it high over your head."


Petula Dvorak is a columnist for the Washington Post.

--The Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2013 A9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Donny 'Golden Boy' Lalonde returns home

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Winnipeg Free Press 090528 STAND UP...(Weather) One to oversee the pecking order, a pack of pelican's fishes the eddies under the Red River control structure at Lockport Thursday morning......
  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Will you miss the old Banana Boat building?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google