Be honest now: If someone asked you to spell “Flemish,” and you were in Tennessee on the first day of spring, wouldn’t you almost spell it “phlegmish”?
Not to mention spelling “fennel” with a stuffed-up nose — F-E-D-D-E-L — or misunderstanding the emcee’s pronunciation as “o-topsy” and asking for clarification to be sure it’s “aw-topsy” before spelling A-U-T-O-P-S-Y correctly.
These challenges and more awaited 44 of Middle Tennessee’s finest young orthographers at MTSU at the regional finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Wednesday, March 20.
Jonathan Caldwell, a seventh-grader at Merrol Hyde Magnet School in Hendersonville, Tenn., correctly spelled “ginglymus” with a relieved “oof” and a fist pump in the 18th round to win this year’s regional bee.
He and his parents, Jay and Holly Caldwell, his two sisters and perhaps some of his supportive extended family can now enjoy a six-day trip to Washington, D.C., courtesy of MTSU’s School of Journalism, for the National Spelling Bee, which will be held May 28-30.
That’s where Caldwell, who proudly admits that he “loves learning new words,” will face more than 250 other young wordsmiths from across the country with the same goal — the national championship title.
Caldwell was one of a “sweet 16” group of regional spellers that stuck it out through several of the bee’s 18 rounds before finally dwindling to a dozen, then 10, then seven, then to the final three: Caldwell, second-place home schooled seventh-grader Benjamin Kulas of Williamson County and third-place finalist Andrew Franklin of Heritage Christian Academy in Mt. Juliet.
“Just keep breathing. You’re doing fine,” Dr. Bob Pondillo, pronouncer, emcee and MTSU professor of electronic media communication, soothingly told the spellers several times.
Each student had a unique spelling style. Some draaaaaaawled the letters. Some E-N-U-N-C-I-A-T-E-D, and others nervously spat out their responses and skittishly awaited the dreaded “ding” of the incorrect-answer bell.
Still others, like Caldwell, used the contestant number placard around their necks like an imaginary Etch A Sketch, scribbling the word with a finger before spelling it aloud for the judges.
“This was a great time,” said School of Journalism Director Dwight E. Brooks as he packed up supplies in Ballroom C of MTSU’s Student Union after the almost three-hour event. “It was our first year to host, and we’ve learned a lot.”
The regional finalists have advanced from local and county-level spelling bees in 30 counties across Middle Tennessee. Students under 15 and in first through eighth grades in public, parochial, charter and home schools are eligible to participate in the spelling bee, which began in 1925.
Tennessee has seen seven national winners in the spelling bee in its 88-year history, including a three-year sweep in the mid-90s. The last spelling champion from Tennessee was Ned G. Andrews, the Knoxville News-Sentinel Bee winner who took the national crown in 1994 by correctly spelling “antediluvian.”
For more information about the National Spelling Bee, visit www.spellingbee.com.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)