AFTER A bruising competition that had the crowd gasping and cheering, the reigning champion had been eliminated and the field winnowed from 22 to two. One would go on to compete for the national title, the other would go home.
Ameen Bader misstepped, and the moment he realized he had left the field open for his opponent, he collapsed in defeat.
But “I’m winning” must never be mistaken for “I won.” Grant Loose stumbled and fell short. Bader looked in hope, saw the signal and realized he had a shot at redemption. He walked back up to the line, ready to try again. The tension in the crowd, already palpable from more than an hour of anxious moments, grew almost unbearable.
The regional Scripps Spelling Bee competition was going into the equivalent of overtime.
Anyone who thinks these spelling bees are a poor version of traditional sports simply has never attended one. The contestants prepare with months of frequent drilling. The stakes are high: a trip to Washington, D.C., and a chance at a national title with scholarship money that could reshape a future.
And the opportunity is real. Two years ago, Sukanya Roy won the regional bee, and went on to nab the national title.
How many adults can pronounce - much less spell - Stereognosis (the word that tripped up defending champion Devon Reed Sunday), decastich (the first word Bader missed), or bastide (Loose’s downfall, setting up an immediate rematch with Bader).
These students are as serious about competition as any athlete; Their losses can be as heartbreaking as an overtime squeaker (and remember, there is never a blow-out; the event often comes down to two contestants facing off alone). Their victories should be celebrated with the same joy as other champions.
And the winner of this year’s bee? Loose will be heading to Washington.
But every one of those students showed enough grit and effort to win the hearts of those who watched.