If a young person has his or her eyes on winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee this week at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., near Washington, D.C., it’s no longer enough to know how to spell a lot of really difficult words.
Beginning this year, the youngsters have to know what words mean, too.
A written or computer spelling test has been part of the spelling bee since 2002, helping to winnow competitors, even if they spelled their first word onstage correctly.
This year, qualifying for the semifinals and championship finals will be determined by a cumulative score that includes onstage spelling, computer-based spelling questions and computer-based vocabulary questions.
No matter what, we are justifiably proud of Molly Youngs of Sidney, who won The Daily Star 2013 Regional Spelling Bee in March and was eliminated in the second round of the national bee Wednesday on the difficult word “apparatchik.”
In the championship round back in March in the Goodrich Theatre at the State University College at Oneonta, Molly spelled “cilantro” without knowing its definition.
“I told her it would take a little bit of luck,” her mother, Sheri Youngs, said. “As it turned out, she got a little bit lucky with a word she didn’t know.”
“Luck,” as the late Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi liked to say, “is the residue of design.” In other words, Molly had to work very hard to become an excellent speller and reach a point in the local bee where she could take advantage of her good fortune and win her trip.
All in all, we think the change in format is an excellent idea. It’s good to know how to spell a word, but it’s even better if you know how to use it in a sentence.
While the change in format has its critics who feel that if it’s a spelling bee, it should just be about spelling, Spelling Bee Director Paige Kimble defended the new reality.
“The reason for the change is all about extending the bee’s commitment to its purpose, which long has been not only to help students improve their spelling,” she said, “but also to increase the vocabulary, learn concepts and develop correct English usage.”
No pressure, of course, but ESPN is televising the finals scheduled for tonight. The winner gets a prize of $30,000 and an engraved trophy.
All that is fine, but there is a greater prize, not only for the winner, but for all the contestants — who, by the way, all happen to be winners.
Not only do they know how to spell “achievement.” They know what it means, too.