Spelling Bees: Not Just For Smart Kids Anymore


We have an adult spelling bee down here. It’s sponsored by a literacy council, it’s in September, and the ads show a local TV personality dressed as a bee that’s either pregnant or has a large stomach tumor. I’m guessing that’s their way of saying, “Come on! Join the grown-up spelling bee! We look like fools, why shouldn’t you?”

Let me ask this: In the Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee, do we have to get dressed up? Because when I was in school and there was a spelling bee, if you were in it, you had to wear a dress. And that’s about all I did to prepare for the spelling be I was in. 

Seventh grade. I spent more time planning what outfit I was going to wear and less time learning how to spell things. I did memorize some spelling rules and misspelled “foreign” because “I” comes before “E” except after “C.” Stupid rules. Stupid exceptions to the “except” rule. So I went down in the first round. Mrs. Morris, my polite next-door-neighbor, a retired teacher who was one of the judges, was not very polite and directly scorned me after it was over. Scorned me, berated me and then laughed at me.

“The first round?! Wasn’t your sister the spelling bee champion?” she and every other person on the planet asked me.

Indeed, she was. Pam was the spelling bee champ from our school five years earlier and she won the coveted right to represent Hubbard at The Youngstown Vindicator Spelling Bee. She stayed in long enough to be the last Trumbull Countian standing and she got her picture in the rotogravure.  The thing I remember most about Pam’s honor, besides the fact that she got dressed up, was that our phone rang the day after the bee and it was Esther Hamilton, a Vindicator reporter whose crusty newspaper broad assignments included covering the spelling bee. Esther and whatever 102-year-old photographer that accompanied her had failed to get the name of someone who was next to Pam in the photo and they were frantically trying to cover their asses right before deadline. Esther thought maybe Pam would know which spelling genius was on her left in the photo session. Pam didn’t know and Esther yelled at her and hung up on her. 

I later worked at The Vindicator and in fact wrote the story of Esther’s retirement and her obituary, so I I was an Esther Hamilton expert, if you will. And I can say with almost certainty that Pam was lucky to have just gotten a quick Damnit and a slam of the phone. It could have been far worse and I’m sure was for many other spelling bee runners-up who didn’t take names at the photo session.

But back to Palm Beach County’s Great Grown-up Spelling Bee (oops, I almost misspelled “grown-up”). They’ve got businesses that are sponsoring letters. Sea Tow is sponsoring the letter S, Greenberg Traurig is sponsoring the letter G, and Park Avenue BBQ & Grille is sponsoring the letter Q. Huh? I guess they figured no one else would go after that one. Who the heck wants Q? They may as well go in together with Sparky’s Coffee Shop and take U too. Not to be outdone, NCCI Holdings Inc. is sponsoring the entire lower case alphabet. 

I’m intrigued enough to maybe go to it, as a spectator of course. It holds some fascination for me and I feel I should take advantage of the fact that I live in a place where they have adult spelling bees. Much like the Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum, which I’m also going to real soon.