There’s something a little bit old-fashioned about a spelling bee and we say that as praise. A long-standing traditional display of word knowledge, it’s an exercise and a discipline for the brain, showcasing skills that should never become outdated.
With the electronic, computerized tools available today — autocorrect, autofill, calculators and, of course, the ease of research with Google — more than a few of us might sometimes wonder if our brains are getting as flabby as other parts of us are after a few nights on the couch binge watching Netflix.
That’s why the skills and memory power required for participation in a spelling bee are impressive. Especially in modern times due to the aforementioned crutches used to prop up our mental abilities.
In Meriden last week, 11 fifth and sixth grade students participated in the 2023 Citywide Spelling Bee, an event sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Meriden and the Record-Journal. Also on hand for the event, held at Edison Middle School, was a pool of students who had participated in the preliminary rounds of the competition. The bee was judged by a Board of Education member along with Kiwanis Club officers.
Those 11 students were the top spellers from each of their respective schools, having won their district spelling bees before coming together for a citywide championship, according to a story by Record-Journal reporter Ben Baker.
Ultimately, Hunter Lafarriere, a student at Thomas Hooker Elementary School, was named champion. He “took home the gold after breezing through 13 rounds and successfully spelling out both runner-up Victoria Kiszkiel of Ben Franklin Elementary’s final word, ‘squirrel’, and the final challenge word, ‘subscription’,” Baker wrote.
Hunter explained to Baker how he managed to keep his composure as his competition got bumped off the stage along the way. Hunter said he meticulously prepared for the event by drilling with a list of words sent home to competitors, focusing on the words he found most difficult.
“I was pretty confident for all of it,” Hunter said, in his interview with Baker. “I worked a lot at home and in school. I had my mom quiz me with a paper they sent home and then she would mark up the words I got wrong, and then I would keep practicing those words over and over.”
Hunter told Baker that he kept his mind sharp during the bee by attempting to spell out words in his head given to other contestants as he waited for his turn — just in case he was given that word later on.
Spelling bees have been around a long time. According to spellingbee.com, the concept first appeared in print in 1875, but orally the term likely pre-dates 1850. A “spelling match” has been traced back to 1808. The Scripps National Spelling Bee started in 1925 and that was an effort put together by nine newspapers that collaborated on hosting the event. The word “bee” is often used to describe a get-together for communal work, for example a sewing bee, but works well in this application, too.
The pandemic put the citywide bee on pause and other challenges have been taking a toll on attendance, too, according to Kiwanis Club Director Cathy Battista, who supervised the event. However, she told Baker that this year’s bee brought in higher attendance than past years and she’s optimistic the event will continue to grow.
We share that optimism and that’s in large part due to these young students and the family members who support their scholarly endeavors. In an era that allows us to take lazy shortcuts, the work that goes into participation in a spelling bee models a good approach to keeping wits sharp and toning the memory. We could all benefit from more of that.