Scripps National Spelling Bee
|Scripps National Spelling Bee|
|Frequency||Annual (late May or early June)|
|Location(s)||Washington, D.C. area|
|Patron(s)||The E. W. Scripps Company|
The Scripps National Spelling Bee (formerly the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee and commonly called the National Spelling Bee) is an annual spelling bee held in the United States. The bee is run on a not-for-profit basis by The E. W. Scripps Company and is held at a hotel or convention center in Washington, D.C. during the week following Memorial Day weekend. Since 2011, it has been held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center hotel in National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. It was previously held at the Grand Hyatt Washington in Washington D.C. from 1996 to 2010. Current and past Executive Directors of the Spelling Bee, Paige Kimble and Reta (née Reynolds) Rose have helped to widely popularize the Spelling Bee during their respective and lengthy tenures at the helm. On May 30, 2019, the Spelling Bee ran out of words that might challenge the contestants. They ended up having 8 winners instead of 1 or 2.
Although most of its participants are from the U.S., students from countries such as The Bahamas, Canada, the People's Republic of China, India, Ghana, Japan, Jamaica, Mexico, and New Zealand have also competed in recent years. Historically, the competition has been open to, and remains open to, the winners of sponsored regional spelling bees in the U.S. (including territories such as Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Navajo Nation, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with overseas military bases in Germany and South Korea). Participants from countries other than the U.S. must be regional spelling-bee winners as well.
Contest participants cannot be older than fourteen as of August 31 of the year before the competition; nor can they be past the eighth grade as of February 1 of that year's competition. Previous winners are also ineligible to compete.
Since 1994, the cable-television channel ESPN has televised the later rounds of the bee; since 2006, earlier rounds have aired on ESPN during the day, and the Championship Finals have aired in the evening on ESPN.
The 2020 National Spelling Bee competition, originally scheduled for May 24, was suspended and later canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first time it had been canceled since 1945.
The National Spelling Bee was formed in 1925 as a consolidation of numerous local spelling bees, organized by The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. Frank Neuhauser won the first National Spelling Bee held that year, by successfully spelling "gladiolus". the spelling bee has been held every year except for 1943–1945 due to World War II and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The E.W. Scripps Company acquired the rights to the program in 1941. The bee is held in late May and/or early June of each year. It is open to students who have not yet completed the eighth grade, reached their 15th birthday, nor won a previous National Spelling Bee. Its goal is educational: not only to encourage children to perfect the art of spelling, but also to help enlarge their vocabularies and widen their knowledge of the English language.
An insect bee is featured prominently on the logo of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, despite "bee" being unrelated to the name of the insect. "Bee" refers to "a gathering", where people join together in an activity. This sense of "bee" is related to the word "been".
The Bee is the nation's largest and longest-running educational promotion, administered on a not-for-profit basis by The E.W. Scripps Company and 291 sponsors in the United States, Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Guam, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Ghana, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
Sponsorship is available on a limited basis to daily and weekly newspapers serving English-speaking populations around the world. Each sponsor organizes a spelling bee program in its community with the cooperation of area school officials: public, private, parochial, charter, virtual, and home schools.
Schools enroll with the national office to ensure their students are eligible to participate and to receive the materials needed to conduct classroom and school bees. During enrollment, school bee coordinators receive their local sponsor's program-specific information—local dates, deadlines, and participation guidelines.
The official study booklet is available free online.
The champion of each sponsor's final spelling bee advances to the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition in Washington, D.C.
Qualifying regional competitions
To qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a speller must win a regional competition. Regional spelling bees usually cover many counties, with some covering an entire state, U.S. territory, or foreign country. Regional competitions' rules are not required to correspond exactly to those of the national competition; most notably, the national competition has since 2004 featured time controls that are designed to ensure its conformity to the programming schedule of its nationwide television broadcaster (see Regulations of oral rounds below) and that are not intended to be implemented at lower levels of competition.
Most school and regional bees (known to Scripps as local spelling bees) use the official study booklet. Through competition year 1994, the study booklet was known as Words of the Champions; during competition years 1995 through 2006, the study booklet was the category-based Paideia; in 2007 the format and title were changed to the 701-word Spell It!, and in 2020 a new edition of Words of the Champions is used. The booklet is published by Merriam-Webster in association with the National Spelling Bee. It contains 1,155 words, divided primarily by language of origin, along with exercises and activities in each section. Most bees whose winners advance to regional-level competition use the School Pronouncer's Guide, which contains a collection of Words of the Champions words as well as "off-list words" not listed in Words of the Champions but featured in Scripps' official dictionary, the unabridged Webster's Third New International Dictionary (published by Merriam-Webster).
Scripps provides a Sponsor Bee Guide to administrators of regional bees. The Sponsor Bee Guide consists of two volumes, each of which contains both words from Words of the Champions and "surprise words". Bees need not use the words from Words of the Champions to be considered official.
To participate in the national competition, a speller must be sponsored. Scripps has 281 sponsors (mostly newspapers) from the U.S., Canada, The Bahamas, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe covering a certain area and conducting their own regional spelling bees to send spellers to the national level.
The Preliminaries consists of a test (Preliminaries Test) delivered by computer on Tuesday and two rounds of oral spelling onstage on Wednesday. Spellers may earn up to 36 points during the Preliminaries: up to 30 points on the Preliminaries Test, three points for correctly spelling in Round Two and three points for correctly spelling in Round Three.
The Preliminaries Test (also called round one) has four sections, most of which administered by a computer system. Round One of the preliminaries consists of two sections; Section A consists of spelling 24 words, identical for each contestant, with each correct answer awarding 1 point (but only 12 of the 24 words are actually scored). Section B consists of 24 multiple-choice vocabulary questions using a similar scoring format. Section C and D, preliminary rounds two and three, consist of a single multiple-choice vocabulary question each. The questions are unique to each contestant, and worth 3 points towards their Preliminaries score. The highest possible score in the preliminaries is 30.
History of Round One
Round One was a written spelling test, and has changed in format several times. In the few years prior to 2008, Round One consisted of a 25-word, multiple-choice written test. However, in 2010, changes were made in the formatting of this test. It consisted of 25 words, sometimes called "the written round". All spellers gathered at the Maryland Ballroom by 8:00 a.m. Jacques Bailly, the Bee's official pronouncer,(also the 1980 champion) pronounced each word, its language of origin, definition, and usage in a sentence. Spellers are given a 30-second pause in which to write down their word with the two pens given to them, and then Bailly repeated the word and all information. There was another 30-second pause, and then they moved onto the next word. Each correctly spelled word on the Round One written test was worth one point. In 2011, they stayed with that format. In 2012, they changed to the original computerized test, 50 spelling words, half scored and half not scored.
Beginning in 2013, the test now includes vocabulary questions, such as being asked to choose the correct definition for a word. While met with criticism by past contestants for deviating from the concept of a spelling bee, organizers indicated that the change was made to help avert perceptions that the competition was based solely on memorization skills (as had been showcased by television broadcasts), and to help further the Bee's goal of expanding the vocabulary and language skills of children.
Round Two is an oral round, in which spellers spell a word from the Words of the Champions list. Each speller receives a unique word. Every speller participates and has a chance to take the stage. A correct oral spelling in Round Two is worth three points. If they miss their word, the head judge will ring the bell, and the speller is eliminated from the competition. Dr. Bailly will offer the correct spelling, and the speller is escorted off stage. All spellers who misspell in Round Two will tie for the same place.
This round is broadcast live Tuesday on ESPN3.
Round Three is an oral round. Every speller who spelled correctly in Round Two spells a word from Merriam-Webster Unabridged. Like Round Two, it is worth three points for a correct spelling. If a speller misspells, then he or she is eliminated from the competition and is escorted off stage. The judges total scores from the remaining spellers to determine qualification for semifinals.
This round is usually broadcast live on Wednesday also on ESPN3.
Round Four was recently changed in 2016. Scripps recently dropped the semi-finals test and added a Tiebreaker Test (however, it was only used in 2017 and 2018), in which the spellers took a test similar to the preliminaries test, but containing harder and confusing words. As a result, there was controversy and Scripps dropped the Tiebreaker Test in 2019, in which eight co-champions won. Round Four is now oral and the start of the finals, in which no more than 50 spellers compete. There is no study list for this round and the rest of the finals.
These rounds are broadcast live on ESPN2.
At the end of the finals, the remaining spellers thin out into 10-16 and all the remaining spellers are invited to spell in the Prime-Time finals. This can go on until the word list is exhausted and the judges move on to the 25 championship rounds until a champion or joint champions are crowned.
Regulations of oral rounds
Before 2004, a speller could not be required to spell a given word until the judges deemed that the word had been clearly pronounced and identified by the speller; even then, judges rarely if ever instructed a contestant to begin spelling unless it was obvious that the speller was making no further progress in figuring out the word and that he/she was instead simply "stalling for time". Most local and regional competitions continue to follow this rule and enforcement pattern, although they are not obliged to do so.
Starting in 2004, the Bee adopted new rules. A speller is given two and a half minutes from when a word is first pronounced to spell it completely. The first two minutes are Regular Time; the final thirty seconds are Finish Time. During this time limit, a speller is allowed to ask the pronouncer for the word's:
- Part of speech
- Use in a sentence
- Language(s) of origin (the complete etymology of the word is not provided)
- Alternate pronunciations
- Root (A speller may ask whether a word comes from a particular root word or word element, but the competitor must specify that root's language of origin and definition.)
- Repeat the word
A chime signals that regular time has expired, and the judges inform the speller that Finish Time has begun. The speller may watch a clock counting down from thirty seconds; no timing devices are allowed onstage. During Finish Time, a speller may not make further requests to the pronouncer but rather must begin spelling the word. Any speller who exceeds the time limit is automatically eliminated; judges do not acknowledge letters spelled after the end of Finish Time. A speller is allowed to stop spelling a word and restart spelling, but if (s)he changes the letters already said, the alteration counts as a misspelling and causes automatic elimination.
Starting in the 2015 bee, the time limit was reduced to two minutes, indicated by a monitor with a traffic light on it. For the first 75 seconds, the traffic light is green. Once 45 seconds remain, the light turns yellow and a countdown appears on the screen. While the light is green or yellow, the speller is free to request information from the pronouncer as listed above. Once 30 seconds remain, the light turns red and the speller must begin spelling the word as in Finish Time above.
Recent spelling bees
Proposed international bee
In May 2012, Scripps announced tentative plans for an international version, in which three-person teams from as many as sixty countries would compete. Although each speller would be able to confer with teammates once during each contest, all spellers would eventually compete and win prizes as individuals. If logistical and financial details can be reached, the event would be officially announced in early 2013 with the first competition to take place the following December. As of 2015, these plans are on hold.
Champions and winning words
As of the 2019 competition, the first place prize was raised from $40,000 to $50,000, and in the event of a tie, the two winners will split the first and second place ($25,000) awards ($37,500 each).
The winner also receives other prizes, such as an engraved loving cup trophy from Scripps, a $2,500 savings bond, a reference library from Merriam-Webster, $400 in reference works and a lifetime membership to Britannica Online Premium from Encyclopædia Britannica, and an online course and a Nook eReader from K12 Inc.
All spellers receive Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged on CD-ROM from Merriam-Webster; the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, which is a $100 U.S. Savings Bond; a cash prize from Scripps for contestants who reach the Semi-finals; and As of 2015[update], a Microsoft Surface 3 with keyboard and stylus. The cash prizes are determined based on the round, and can be as much as $12,500 (for the second-place finisher). In 2014, spellers eliminated before the Semi-finals began receiving educational tools from Microsoft instead of a $100 cash prize given in years past. All other prizes remained unchanged.
Historical format and prizes
For the first three decades of the bee (1925–1957), the spelling competition was held on a single day. This presented no problem in the Bee's early years, which had only nine contestants in 1925, and did not crack 50 contestants before 1950. After the 1957 bee took almost 10 hours to complete (the second-ever tie after the word list was exhausted), the bee moved to a two-day format in 1958. As the number of contestants continued to increase (first breaking 100 in 1978), an opening practice round was eliminated at the 1987 bee due to a record 185 entrants.
After a three-day bee was held for the first time in 2001, a written test was added for the first time in 2002 to help keep the bee to two days of competition. In 2002 and 2003, a 25-word written test was given after an opening oral round.
For most of its early years, the first place prize was either $500 or $1000. It was $500 in gold pieces in the first bee in 1925, and doubled to $1000 the next year. It dropped back to $500 in the 1933 bee during the Great Depression, and only returned to $1000 in 1956. In 1987, the first place prize was raised to $1,500, and all spellers after reaching 10th place received $50. By 1993 it was $5,000.
In popular culture
The drama film Bee Season (2005), based on Myla Goldberg's novel of the same name, follows a young girl's journey through various levels of spelling-bee competition to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, as did the drama film Akeelah and the Bee (2006).
The Netflix documentary Spelling the Dream (2020) chronicles the ups and downs of four Indian-American students as they compete to realize their dream of winning the iconic Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The book American Bee, by James Maguire, profiles five spellers who made it to the final rounds of the competition – Samir Patel, Katharine Close, Aliya Deri, Jamie Ding, and Marshall Winchester – as well as giving an overview of the history of the bee.
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