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Spelling Bee Angels

A spelling bee hopeful receives comfort from an “angel of a college student.”

Angels on Earth blogger Colleen Hughes

As one of the world’s worst spellers, I love a good spelling bee story, like this one I read in yesterday’s New York Times.

Tania James told of her experience at the Scripps National Spelling Bee 17 years ago. She got bit by the spelling bee bug when she was 12 years old, and spent endless hours training and studying with her sister. Their mom quizzed them: eudaemonic, gastrocnemius, papeterie, appoggiatura. (Words even my spell check doesn’t recognize!)

At 14 Tania flew with her mother from Kentucky to Washington for the national competition. She approached the microphone for her first word, praying she wouldn’t make a mistake, “not on my first word.”

“Barbican,” the announcer said. And Tania knew she was sunk. That last syllable, was it C-A-N or C-O-N? Tania stalled. Asked for a repeat. The definition. For use in a sentence. The word’s etymology. In the end, she misspelled the word and a bell tinkled, signaling her failure. Her heart sank.

But remember Zuzu in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, the little girl who says, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings”? Well, Tania says she was “ushered offstage by an angel of a college student, dewy and beautiful in her sympathy, telling me, in my brain-dead state, that we were going to the Comfort Room.”

Inside the “losers” sat around a table, where they shared their missed words over junk food and Sprite. They could stay as long as they wanted, until their disappointment waned and they felt OK again. The spelling bee angels made sure of it.

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