New York Daily News

Word champs, you’ll be in a vir­tual spell

No letup of ten­sion in Myan­mar

- BY BEN NUCKOLS Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Walt Disney World Resort · The Walt Disney Company · Walt Disney · Florida · Washington · San Antonio · ESPN Inc.

The Scripps Na­tional Spell­ing Bee will re­turn this year in a mostly vir­tual for­mat, with the in-per­son com­pe­ti­tion limited to a dozen fi­nal­ists who will gather on an ESPN cam­pus at Walt Dis­ney World in Florida, Scripps an­nounced Mon­day.

Last year’s bee was can­celed be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the first time since World War II it had been called off. Or­ga­niz­ers said they did not be­lieve a large gath­er­ing at the bee’s long­time venue — a con­ven­tion cen­ter out­side Washington — would be pos­si­ble this year for the com­pe­ti­tion’s usual date around Me­mo­rial Day.

In­stead of com­press­ing the en­tire com­pe­ti­tion into a week — spell­ers rou­tinely re­fer to Bee Week as a high­light of their young lives — the bee will be stretched over sev­eral weeks. The preliminar­y rounds will be held in mid-June, the semi­fi­nals on June 27 and the ESPN-tele­vised fi­nals on July 8.

“We gave up on the idea of Bee Week early on be­cause we knew we couldn’t bring hun­dreds of peo­ple to one lo­ca­tion safely,” Carolyn Micheli, the bee’s in­terim ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said.

“We came up with what I think is a pretty ex­cit­ing and cre­ative way of struc­tur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion across sev­eral weeks that will be fun for the kids, build ex­cite­ment, and I think it’s a great way to cope with a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion,” she added.

The can­cel­la­tion of last year’s bee was a par­tic­u­larly cruel blow to eighth-graders who missed out on their fi­nal chance to com­pete af­ter years of prepa­ra­tion. Top spell­ers rou­tinely study ob­scure words, roots and lan­guage pat­terns for hours a day, sac­ri­fic­ing other ac­tiv­i­ties and so­cial life for a chance to be­come the na­tional cham­pion. Spell­ers are no longer el­i­gi­ble af­ter they reach high school.

“A lot of spell­ers, in­clud­ing me, were re­ally heart­bro­ken when we couldn’t get the chance to ac­tu­ally go to Scripps and ex­pe­ri­ence that en­tire week, that amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence again,” said Harini Lo­gan, a 12-year-old sev­enth-grader from San An­to­nio who hopes to con­tend this year.

Sev­eral on­line bees were held last sum­mer by other or­ga­ni­za­tions to give op­por­tu­ni­ties to those eighth-graders, but none of those events held the pres­tige of the ESPN-tele­vised Scripps com­pe­ti­tion, with its $50,000 top prize, na­tional media ex­po­sure and nearly 100 years of his­tory.

“I have never re­ally stopped or slowed down,” Harini said of her bee prepa­ra­tion. “I have tried to keep my pace of work and study as con­sis­tent as I can keep it through­out th­ese un­cer­tain times.”

Scripps sur­veyed spell­ers and their fam­i­lies about what they’d like to see in the 2021 bee, and the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity said they just wanted as­sur­ances that the com­pe­ti­tion would be held in some form, said Cor­rie Lo­ef­fler, the bee’s ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor.

The bee will be limited to about 200 spell­ers — a 64% re­duc­tion from the 2019 event, which had 562 par­tic­i­pants, and about half the num­ber that had been planned for 2020.

A wild-card pro­gram in­tro­duced in 2018 as an op­por­tu­nity to bring in more spell­ers from highly com­pet­i­tive re­gions has been dis­con­tin­ued, mean­ing most spell­ers will have to use the tra­di­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tion route of win­ning re­gional bees.

Spell­ers who live in ar­eas that lack spon­sored re­gional bees can com­pete and earn a spot at na­tion­als through on­line qual­i­fy­ing bees or­ga­nized by Cincin­nati-based Scripps.

An­other change: There will be no writ­ten spell­ing and vo­cab­u­lary test to nar­row the field to 50 or so semi­fi­nal­ists. Vir­tual for­mat not­with­stand­ing, the bee will re­turn to its roots as a purely oral spell­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

 ??  ?? Anti-coup pro­test­ers raise hands with clenched fists Mon­day in Man­dalay, Myan­mar. Call for strike protest­ing mil­i­tary seizure of power has been met with thinly veiled threat of lethal force.
Anti-coup pro­test­ers raise hands with clenched fists Mon­day in Man­dalay, Myan­mar. Call for strike protest­ing mil­i­tary seizure of power has been met with thinly veiled threat of lethal force.

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