Loudoun Extra’s video coverage

May 26, 2009

Jeff Koslofsky of The Washington Post’s Loudoun Extra recently shot some video of Santos and us preparing for the Bee. Here’s the link.


Best phrase of the week

May 26, 2009

Here’s something we’re so glad to hear many, many parents say this week: “We told him (or her) just to have fun.”

That’s been our approach, although I suspect we’d hear different from that certain sliver of speller-families who haven’t been at any of the social functions. They’re aiming for the $30,000 grand prize, and they’re deadly serious. And spending every free minute in their hotel rooms, noses in dictionaries.

We could have done that, too, I suppose. But then again we saw some really cool pieces this afternoon at the National Gallery of Art, including this hallway filled with 41,000 LED lights animated by a Mac. And the Hope Diamond and dinosaur bones and ancient Roman coins at the Natural History museum.

Santos certainly has his competitive side. That’s why he’s here at the Scripps Bee for the second year. But we’re making sure the experience gets its place in line behind more important things — like family, faith and people.

Mentions in the ‘sphere

May 26, 2009

Looks like we’re getting some pickup in the blogosphere, including mentions at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago and Loudoun Extra’s Living in Loco. Kind of a fun development!

But we’re definitely not the only people either Tweeting or blogging this year. Among the reads:

— Scripps’ official Twitter feed.
— Blog by the father of one of this year’s 8-year-old contestants.
— Another by sixth-grader Anja Beth Swoap.

You also find posts on Twitter by searching for hashtags #Bee09 and #spellingbee

Round One computer tests begin

May 26, 2009

OK, fun is done. Time for the months of studying (or not, depending on the kid) to meet its test: a 50-word computer test that’s held all day today at the Grand Hyatt.

The spellers have pre-assigned times; Santos’ test is at 10 a.m.

The format is basic. Spellers sit at a computer in a small cubicle. They wear headphones to listen as official Bee pronouncer Dr. Jacques Bailly offers each word. On screen, kids can see the word’s definition, part of speech and its use in a sentence. They type their answers, and they have ample opportunity to review their spellings before submitting the test.

Here’s the twist: Only 25 of the 50 words count toward a speller’s preliminary score, and spellers don’t know which. They also don’t find out until later in the competition which words they spelled correctly.

Santos says:

I really hope I do better on the test this year.  Last year’s words ranged from pinyin to midriff to cacoethes to otorhinolaryngology. So I have no idea what could possibly be on the test this year. On the words I don’t know, I just have to take my hacks, pray, and hope for the best. Sometimes, you can tell which words are going to count toward the 25 and which aren’t. Last year, I knew that cacoethes was obviously one of the 25, as was otorhinolaryngology.

To paraphrase,  in one word:


Santos isn’t allowed to reveal the words on the test (because spellers are taking the test all day), but we’ll post his post-test thoughts later.

ABC/ESPN takes Santos sightseeing

May 26, 2009

Halfway through Monday’s barbecue, one of the Spelling Bee staffers asked whether Santos would like to join a group of spellers that ABC/ESPN was planning to film around some D.C. monuments. The idea was to gather some B-roll for a segment in a Thursday morning broadcast. Santos was definitely interested, so we let him head out with the camera crew (photo of the six below). His take:

The filming was eye-opening for me. It really showed me what went into making a TV special, commercial, or anything. It was really surprising to be asked to do this, but at the same time, I looked at it as an exciting opportunity. We went by the Capitol and Reflecting pool, saw the Washington Monument, walked down the streets of Washington, D.C., and went to the back of the White House. We also shot some canned dialogue they had prepared for us. Not exactly Shakespeare. We saw some squirrels and everything you would expect to find in D.C., and it was a lot of fun.

Look for this group on Thursday morning’s ESPN broadcast …

ABC/ESPN crew filmed this bunch checking out D.C. sights Monday. Santos is at center.

ABC/ESPN crew filmed this bunch checking out D.C. sights Monday. Santos is at center.

Of barbecues and bonding

May 26, 2009

We all lined up around 11 a.m. Monday to board buses headed for The Pavilions at Turkey Run, site of the Spelling Bee’s Great American Barbecue. We quickly struck up a conversation with Sean Calhoun and family. He’s Speller No. 240 and the only participant from South Dakota (big pressure, Sean!). When his sister mentioned that one of her favorite musicians is rapper TobyMac, we knew we’d found kindred souls, and we had a great time connecting with them as well as Zach Zagorski of Long Island, who, like Santos, is back for his second trip to the Bee.

Maybe things are different this year, or maybe we’ve changed, but it seems like this year’s crop of families and spellers is a friendlier bunch than last year’s. People seem to connect really easily. Santos spent a couple hours playing softball (in between bouts of downing ice cream), and to wrap up the afternoon we visited the nearby Claude Moore farm.

Around the hotel, especially in the morning, a crew from ABC/ESPN was taping, gathering B-roll for the semifinals and finals broadcasts on Thursday. Thanks no doubt to our media-saturated culture, kids seem to be really comfortable with the cameras — even eager to get noticed.

Santos’ mom and brother took in D.C.’s Memorial Day parade as well as some great art museums, and we wrapped up the day with some Chinese food at Tony Cheng (highly recommended). Soon after, Santos pulled out the word lists and disappeared to a quiet corner of the hotel to study with Sean. His Round One computer test is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday.

A camera crew interviews a speller at the Grand Hyatt.

A camera crew interviews a speller at the Grand Hyatt.

Last year’s winning word

May 25, 2009

— A reward, recompense. Something that one has earned or gained.

Sameer Mishra spelled it to win the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Settling in … with autographs

May 25, 2009

One of the fun rituals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee is the autograph swapping among the competitors over the first few days. The folks at Scripps give out a small keepsake book that has a page about each speller, including a small bio, a photo, and a fill-in-the-blank question.

As soon as the spellers get the books, they set about collecting as many signatures as they can. It’s sort of like yearbook signing in high school, although there’s a scramble because the spellers know they’ll be together for just a few days.

Santos says he has about 50 signatures already, and it’s just Sunday. More to come at tomorrow’s events.

Santos swaps signatures on day one.

Santos swapping signatures on day one.

Sunday update

May 25, 2009

Will the Spelling Bee still exist in 10 years? That question came up Sunday evening during a conversation with a parent from South Dakota during our first day settling into the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In his home state, fewer newspapers are sponsoring spellers. In fact, there are fewer newspapers — a reality of not only the recession but the general malaise affecting the news industry. Time will tell, but the bee is one institution we hope to see endure.

Our first day in D.C. consisted of getting into town, registering with the Bee and (in a bit of indulgence) getting in a Washington Nationals game. (Adam Dunn smacked two homers, including a grand slam, to help the Nats top the Orioles.) It was a nice start for the week. Santos has one more day of relative fun before the competition turns serious on Tuesday.

We’ve already run into Deborah Horton and family — a Virginia homeschooler whom we bet is one of the year’s best-prepared competitors — and a bunch of people from all over. Jamaica, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, New York, Canada and more are already well-represented. Also here again is Samantha Mihalik, another Virginian who was seated next to Santos last year and will be again this time. Continuity!

Time for some tea, rest and word study before retiring for the day. More updates to come!

Santos takes in the Nats' game Sunday.

Santos takes in the Nats' game Sunday.

Ryan Zimmerman takes a big cut Sunday.

Ryan Zimmerman takes a big cut Sunday.

Competition schedule

May 24, 2009

For those of you keeping track at home, here’s what the Bee Week schedule looks like:

Sunday and Monday: Registration and preliminary activities, including a barbecue in Northern Virginia.

Tuesday: Round One begins, consisting of a computer-based test. All spellers spell 50 words. Of those, 25 have been pre-selected to count towards the speller’s preliminary score (but spellers do not know in advance which 25 words count toward their score.) They earn one point for each of the 25 words they spell correctly, and that total gets added to the points earned Wednesday.

Wednesday: Rounds Two and Three. All 293 spellers get on stage to spell one word in each of the rounds. This is where the anxiety levels ratchet up, even though there are no eliminations here. Spellers earn three points for each word they get correct — and those points (six maximum, three for each of two words) get added to their Tuesday totals. If a speller got all 25 words on the computer test and both words correct in Rounds Two and Three, they’d earn 31 points, the maximum. Trust us, some kids will.

Based on the scoring in the Preliminary rounds, a maximum of 50 spellers move on to Thursday morning’s Semifinals. That’s a big cut, just 17% of the 293 who started. Expect more than a few sad faces when the 50 Semifinalists are announced Wednesday evening at the end of Round 3.

Thursday: This is the big day, with the most intense media coverage. The 50 spellers who move on to the Semifinals will spell through several elimination rounds, to be broadcast on ESPN in the morning. There’s a break until evening, when the remaining spellers compete in the Finals, broadcast again on ABC.

Friday: Sightseeing all day then the awards banquet at night. And we’re done!