This & that: Spelling superheroes, superjocks and brainiacs

Spelling bee | Photo by Jupiter Images / Banana Stock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

FEATURE – I read many books as a child and as a result I was a pretty decent speller. Every year I would represent my class in the school spelling bee. Normally I would last three or four rounds until the degree of difficulty in each round would increase.

My seventh grade year was much different however. I noticed that I was sticking around further and further into the contest. That year, unlike the previous years, the bee was held in the gymnasium with all of the grades 3-8 classes involved – both as participants and spectators.

Our principal announced that once each of the three representatives for a class was eliminated, that class would be dismissed to return to their classrooms.

It soon became evident that my classmates were enthusiastically cheering each time someone from my grade spelled a word correctly. The other grades were reacting similarly.

Before long it came down to just a few of us. My twin brother, Shawn, was one of the representatives of our class – he went down in the fourth or fifth round. Next I knew it was down to the final two, myself and Brad, a nerdy kid from the eighth grade.

All that were left in the bleachers were the seventh and eighth grades.

With each round, Brad and I were spelling the words correctly. What began as polite applause at the beginning of the contest turned to raucous cheering from each of the classes when their speller had correctly spelled the word. I began to realize that they were not necessarily cheering our success, but more likely cheering the resultant extra time away from the classroom.

I was curious just who my brother Scott had been cheering. Scott was in the eighth grade. I looked to the stands after Brad correctly spelled another word to see my brother not only cheering but leading the frenzy wu tanging it in the crowd. He later claimed he would have stuck out like a sore thumb if he had cheered after my successes. He said he did not want to be the class pariah. And, he added, Brad was one of his best friends. Yeah exactly, that was just as believable in 1978: Superjock and Brainiac were buddies.

After several rounds of correct spellings and wild cheers it became clear that we could actually not finish the spelling bee that day. The principal went to the microphone and told the audience to conserve time by withholding their cheers until the spelling bee was finished.

We were already spelling words that we had never spoken let alone used in our daily vocabulary. There were a few rounds in which either Brad or I misspelled a word only to have the other boy also misspell the word. To win once it was down to two, you had to correctly spell the word your opponent had misspelled and then correctly spell the next word.

I remember the word that got me out. Pusillanimous. I can spell it now. Trust me, I did not have to use the spell check to get it correct. But in 1978, I misspelled pusillanimous. The definition and the use of the word in a sentence did not help me. Of course an apt use would have been “Your pusillanimous older brother is cheering for your opponent.”

They did not have the other many stall tactics in use today. I don’t even know how I misspelled it but Brad spelled it correctly. Then he got an easy word. I can’t remember what it was. I just remember thinking it was easy. Brad again spelled the word correctly and he was thus the champion.

I recently looked up Brad on Facebook. He is still a nerd, he works for the Internal Revenue Service. We happily reminisced that childhood moment again.

I remember being a little disappointed after my spelling bee defeat. But soon I discovered that I had become a minicelebrity in our school – not because I was runner-up at the spelling bee but because I had successfully kept my grade out of the classroom for an entire afternoon. The accolades from my classmates were bounteous. They were already looking forward to the next year’s bee.

Darren Cole is a developing columnist and otherwise sports writer for St. George News. Any opinions given are his own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: DCole@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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