My first-ever encounter with spelling bee mania came during lunch yesterday, when I flicked on the TV and encountered ESPN’s early round coverage of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. At first, my reaction was … a spelling bee? On ESPN? I mean, what’s the sport? Do they time the kids or something to see how fast they can walk to the microphone? No. This sports coverage was all about spelling—and came replete, not with soccer Moms, but with parents (often pleasingly dorky-looking) cheering somewhat reservedly from the sidelines. But then the competition sucked me in. It was partly like watching a really tough game show—could I spell the word before it was displayed on the screen?—and part incredible suspense, as the little geniuses stood sweating at the microphone, questioning their elders as to each word’s definition, origin and so forth before slowly and deliberately beginning to spell. I found myself emitting sighs of relief each time one of the contestants got a word right, and feeling just a tad verklempt (maybe it’s a Mom thing), each time one of the poor, little, defenseless future Mensa members was eliminated from the competition. So, yes, the family did tune in to the primetime finals last night on ABC, and even though early reports suggest the show was dead last in the broadcast network ratings, hats off to ABC for giving these kids some air time.
—Posted by Catharine P. Taylor