The joy of winning and the agony of defeat — it all comes with the territory at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
"It's pretty nerve-wracking, but once you spell the word, it's like the weight kind of goes away," said Lizzy Beers of Estero, Florida, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the Bee.
The kids competing in the Bee all arrive hoping they'll emerge a champion. Aditi Muthukumar, a speller from Westminster, Colorado, is also heading to the quarterfinals.
"Spelling has always been a passion and being able to compete and do well at it, it's honestly a dream," she said.
It's a dream that's lived on for nearly 100 years of this competition, with Cybelle Weeks witnessing 25 of those years.
"It has changed a lot since then," she said.
Weeks is director of operations at the bee and said some of those changes can be chalked up to technology.
"It used to be much more about taking out the 20-pound Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary and literally going page by page through that," Weeks said, "and now it's much more about using Merriam-Webster online and using the internet to research words and be kind of your online word detective."
That's not all that's different.
Over the decades, the competition found itself having to get more competitive just to keep up with each new crop of spellers.
"We introduced word meaning rounds a few years ago. So, those were not a part of the bee when I first started with the bee," Weeks said. "And that's an effort to have the kids learn not only how to spell the word, but how to use it, how to use it in their lives beyond bee week."
Then, there is the "spell off" — a competition round created after the bee ended up with an eight-way tie back in 2019.
"The spell off is the most noticeable innovation that we've had in the last couple of years — and that's where the spellers have 90 seconds to spell as many words correctly as they possibly can up on stage," Weeks said. "It is nerve-wracking to watch them, but it's also amazing to see how they deal with all of that pressure."
Despite what's changed at the bee, it remains timeless nearly a century on.
"What remains steadfast is the way the children have their poise and their grace, the way they take to the stage and embrace the competitiveness," Weeks said. "Of course, we only have one champion, but we have spellers that are always rooting for each other — up until that last moment up on stage."
You can watch a special broadcast of the Scripps National Spelling Bee semifinals on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, on the ION and Bounce channels, as well as streaming on the bee's website.
Tune in to those same channels for the live finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
Editor's Note: Scripps News is a subsidiary of the E.W. Scripps Company, which also runs the Scripps National Spelling Bee on a not-for-profit basis.
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