Posted by: Debbie Abrams Kaplan | January 29, 2012

The Spelling Bee

Dori participated in our town’s 5th grade Spelling Bee last week. She didn’t want to and was mad I signed her up (what else is new?). To make matters worse, I made her shower. And wear a dress. “Yes, Dori – ALL the girls will be dressed up.”

Uh, oops. There was only one other girl in a dress, and one in a skirt. The rest were in soccer uniforms and jeans.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we arrived at the high school cafeteria, where the ladies from the Junior Women’ s Club assigned numbers to the  67 entrants. The kids hung their numbers around their necks, and sat down in the participant area.

Just before the Spelling Bee started, they announced that during the competition no one could use the bathroom – now was their last chance. Half the kids got up to pee.

I was worried I might get bored.  But the Spelling Bee was oddly fascinating. Just like on TV or in the movies (or in the Charlie Brown movie – you can also watch it in parts on YouTube), the kids were told the word, had to say the word, spell it correctly and say it again (or they were disqualified). While they spoke into the microphone, the range of the kids’ sizes was surprising, and some kids hunched over it to spell their words, while others reached up to pull the microphone down.

Dori correctly spells a word

Round 1

Of the 67 kids, 8 were disqualified during Round 1, on words including: recite, audible, habit, macaroni, and nylon.

I felt the worst for the first kid who got out. Like in Survivor, who wants to be the first one voted out? The most painful disqualification was the kid who had to spell “correct,” only to be told her answer was incorrect. Every time a kid said a wrong letter, there was an audible sigh or “ohhhh” from the audience. Kids who spelled correctly left the stage with big grins.

Dori correctly spelled “circle” and moved on to…

Round 2

This time, 14 kids were disqualified, on words like: discounted,  permanent, shoulder, knapsack, receipt, radios, weapon, loneliness, and denied.  This round, the gasps came the second the parents heard a hard words, like croquet and camouflage. The only applause was for kids who spelled hard words (like Connecticut and miniature).

Then there was the kid who got the word salmon, and asked for a definition. He then repeated back the word, phonetically: “SAL MON.” He spelled it correctly.

It was at this moment I was quite appreciative that the word announcer didn’t have a Jersey accent.

Dori correctly spelled “expect,” moving on to…

A different picture than the first. Can't you tell? She's spelling another word correctly.

Round 3

At this point, I really began to feel these kids were all set up for failure. At some point, they’re all going to lose (except for the last one). It felt a little cruel. The kids looked dejected when leaving the stage, cuddling up to mom or dad and trying not to cry. The girl next to me got a bouquet of chocolate roses from her mom.

In this round, 5 kids kids were disqualified, for words like acquaint, messenger and carbohydrate. The words started getting longer: crestfallen, fainthearted, Pennsylvania.

Dori correctly spelled “fierce,” and I was able to let my breath out.

Round 4

This round, another 8 kids were booted, for words like: profession, cinnamon, remembered, fatal, business, pyramid and nephew. The other girl wearing a dress, who looked like she could have been in 2nd grade, got the word thistle, and it quickly became clear she didn’t know what it was. She asked for a definition. Then asked for the word to be used in a sentence. She repeated back the word, asking if she pronounced it correctly. Then she spelled it, missing the middle “t.” The audience was clearly upset for her, and after the caller gave her the correct pronunciation, she said a sweet “thank you” into the microphone and left the stage, head held high, to valiant applause from the audience.

Dori spelled “precious” and moved on to…

Round 5

Another 8 kids were disqualified, for words including: sponsor, cassette (as parents whispered to each other that no kid knew what that was anymore), bouquet, skirmish, struedel, barometer and beret.

This round, the audience applauded every kid who got out. I think there was a collective feeling that since the kids got this far, they were heroes (which was spelled correctly during Round 5).

Dori correctly spelled “cavern” and moved on to…

Round 6

Only 5 kids were eliminated this round, to:  suffocated, lilies, empyting, eternity and stereos.

Dori correctly spelled “university,” moving on to…

Round 7

This was a killer. 18 kids remained, and 11 were eliminated this round (for the record: necessary, squadron, molecules, transferred, cartilage, satellite, centimeter, archery)

Dori was eliminated (I promised not to say which word did her in).

The rule for this evening, though, was to end up with 10 kids to move into the finals the next week. Since there were only 7 finalists, the remaining 11 (including Dori) competed for the last 3 spots. To do this, the 11 disqualified kids would go through as many rounds as necessary until there were only 3 left, and they would become finalists too.

Round 8

This round, 4 of the 11 were eliminated, including Dori (the eliminating words were: museum, devilish, opinion, toboggan – I won’t say which was hers).

Round 9

We left at the end of Round 8. Dori got a certificate of participation from the Junior Women’s Club, and an ice cream sandwich at home. She was rightly proud to have made it through 6 rounds, outlasting everyone in her class (though her school did quite well and had several in the final 10 – out of 6 elementary schools). And Dori was no longer mad at me for signing her up.


  1. Congrats, Dori!

  2. We were there for the fourth-graders’ bee. I don’t know if I’m allowed to reveal what did in Declan, but I’m sure he’ll remember forever, as I remember mine. (Damn you, “tigerish!”)

    Well done, Dori! You are fierce!

  3. I doubt I’d make it past round 1 without spell check. Congradulations, no . . Congrattulations, no, Congratulations Dori!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: