There it was on the calendar, Saturday May 11,2013. Big red circle around the date and written in black pen in the middle…SPELLING BEE. Plain as day, you couldn’t miss it. One of the biggest days of the school year for geeks and nerds alike.
Today was the day. In two hours, The 87th Annual Cross Cultural Twin Counties Co-Educational Public School Spelling Bee, would begin. This was a huge event in the history of Thomas Polk Elementary School. It would be one of the biggest, if not THE BIGGEST in the history of The Twin Counties.
There would be twenty-one schools represented with their best and brightest spellers. The gymnasium would be full of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and media representatives. Yes, invitations had been sent out to both of the local papers in The Twin Counties, and both had replied in the affirmative. Real media, in Thomas Polk Elementary School, with a shared photographer….the big time had come to town.
Inside the gymnasium, work had been going on all night in preparation of the big event. The Teachers Auxiliary Group had set up bunting across the stage, purple and white of course, for the school colours. The school colours were actually purple and cream, but, there was a wedding at Our Lady of The Weeping Sisters Baptist Church later, and they had emptied the sav-mart of all of the cream coloured bunting and crepe paper. So, white it would be.
It looked spectacular. There were balloons tied to the basketball net at the south end of the gym. It wouldn’t wind up after the last game, so something had to be done to hide it. Balloons fit the bill. There was three levels of benches on the stage for the competitors, a microphone dead center stage and two 120 watt white spot lights aimed at the microphone. Down in front, was a judges table, also covered in bunting and crepe, with a smaller microphone sitting in the middle. There was a cord connecting it to the stage speaker system, taped to the gym floor with purple duct tape, just to fit in. Big time, big time.
The piece de resistance sat at the right side of the judges table. An eight foot high pole, with an electronic stop watch and two traffic lights, donated from the local public utilities commission, in red and green. The timer had been rigged up by the uncle of one of the competitors, possibly to gain an advantage, to help keep the judges honest in their timings. Besides, it looked fancy, and it had a cool looking remote control.
The gym was filled to capacity. One hundred and Seventy Five Entrants, visitors, judges and media were crammed into plastic chairs, benches, and whatever lawn chairs the Teachers Auxiliary were able to borrow, that weren’t being used for the wedding at the Baptist Church. It was time to begin….
The three judges came in from the left of the clock, and sat down. The entrants were all nervously waiting on stage on the benches. The media representatives were down front, for photo opportunities, of course.
Judge number one, in the middle of the table clicked on the microphone in front of him and turned to the crowd. In doing so, he spilled his water on his notes and pulled the duct tape loose on the floor in front.
“Greetings, and welcome to the 87th Annual Cross Cultural Twin Counties Co-Educational Public School Spelling Bee.” There was some mild clapping from the family members, along with a few muffled whistles and two duck calls from the back. The weak response was due to the fact that most of the parents either had small fans (due to the heat), donated from the local Funeral Home, or hot dogs and beer (from the tailgating outside), in their hands. Needless to say, it was still a positive response.
The judge carried on…”Today’s competition brings together the top spellers in the region of the Twin Counties to do battle on our stage. All of the words used today, have been selected from a number of sources, including Webster’s Dictionary, from our own school library, Words with Friends from the inter web, keeping up with modern culture, and finally from two books of Dr. Suess that we had lying around the office. Each competitor will get one minute to answer once his or her word has been selected. We ask that you please refrain from applause until after the judges have confirmed the spelling, and please no help to the competitors. We now ask that you all turn off any electronic media, cell phones, pagers, etc. so we can begin”.
He then turned to the stage and asked all competitors to remove their cell phones and put them in the bright orange laundry basket, usually reserved for floor hockey sticks. Each student deposited their phones, all one hundred and thirty-seven of them in the basket. We were ready to start.
“Competitor number one…please approach the microphone and state your name and your school” said Judge number two. Judge number two would be in charge of calling the students up, it seemed. She was the librarian at Thomas Polk. She had typical librarian glasses, with the silver chain attached to the arms, flaming red hair, done up in a bee hive uplift, just for the event, and was called Miss Flume. She was married, but, being the south, she was always addressed as Miss.
The first student advanced to the front of the stage. She had bright pink hair, held in place with a gold hairband, black shoes, and a yellow jumper. She looked like a walking number 2 pencil. The two duck calls came from the back of the gymnasium along with scattered applause. All three judges turned and looked to the back, and then turned to face the young girl.
“My name is Bobbie Jo Collister, I am a senior at Jackson Williams School of Fine Arts and Music”. “Thank you Bobbie Joe” said Miss Flume. Bobbie Jo, smiled nervously and put on her glasses. “Your word is horticulture” announced Judge number one, “horticulture”. Bobbie Jo took a breath and without asking for a definition, usage, root of the word or anything, just ripped through it without fail in three point two seconds, according to the mammoth timepiece at the end of the table. After conferring, the judges clicked on the green street light and she sat down, amidst more duck calls and clapping.
Student number two went through the entire process as did students three through eight. Each one had glasses, no surprise there, and were all dressed in monochromatic themes. Together, they looked like a life sized box of crayolas ready for a halloween party. Each child spelled their words correctly and were subsequently cheered and applauded.
Student nine then approached the microphone, stopping about a good seven feet short and three feet right of it. “My name is Oliver Parnocky” squeaked the lad. “I go to George W. Bush P.S 19 and am a senior.” Miss Flume, grabbed the small mike in front of her and said “Oliver…put on your glasses and move over to the microphone.” She leaned into the other judges, and said “He goes to my school, he doesn’t like wearing them much, and he’s always outside at recess talking to the flagpole after everyone else has come inside”.
“Oliver, please spell Dichotomy” said Judge number one. Judge two started the clock and they waited….and waited…then out burst this voice….DICHOTOMY…D I C H O T O M E E, , no, wait..D I C K O….shit!” The crowd erupted in laughter, Oliver was busted. The judges conferred, and after informing poor Oliver they had never heard it spelled quite that way with an O shit at the end, they triggered the red light and Oliver left the stage to sit in the audience with his folks.
The next three kids, all with glasses, like it was part of an unwritten uniform dress code for the day, all advanced and sat down. The next entrant, number thirteen, luckily enough stood from the back and struggled down to the front of the stage. There were gasps and some snickering from the crowd. She was taller than the previous competitors, and a little more pregnant as well. “Please state your name” said Miss Flume. “My name is Betty Jo Willin and am a senior at
Buford T. Pusser Parochial School”. At this announcement there was a cheer of “Got Wood at B.T. Pusser” from the crowd. The judges turned, asked for silence and the offending nuns returned to their seats. “Miss Willin, how old are you exactly?” asked Judge number one. “Twenty Two sir”. “And you say you are a senior?” “Yes sir” came the reply. Betty Jo was shuffling a bit as the pressure on her bladder must have been building standing there in her delicate condition. After conferring, judge number one said “That sounds about right, your word is PROPHYLACTIC”. The few people in the crowd that knew the meaning of the word laughed, while the rest continued eating their hot dogs and drinking their sodas and beers. “Please give a definition sir..I don’t believe I know that word”. The judges looked at each other with a definite “I’m not surprised” look and rattled off the definition. When she asked for usage, the judges really didn’t know what to do. Should they give a sentence using the word or explain the usage of a prophylactic, which regardless would have been too late anyway.
After a modicum of control was reached, she attempted the word, getting all tongue tied and naturally messing it up. The red light was triggered and she left the stage.
More strange outfits, bowties, hair nets, jumpers, clip on ties, followed. It looked like a fashion parade from Goodwill and The Salvation Army rolled into one. Most attempted their words and were green lighted onwards to the next round, while those who failed, were red lighted back to the crowd and the tailgate party in the parking lot. As each competitor was eliminated, the betting board that was being manned outside by one father was updated with new odds and payouts.
The first round was approaching an end with only three kids left. “Number nineteen please approach and state your name” said Miss Flume. He plume of red hair was starting to sag and was sliding slowly off of her head due to the humidity in the gymnasium.
Number nineteen came forth, glasses, tape across the bridge like half of the previous spellers. He was wearing the most colourful shirt that any of the judges had ever seen. It was not from Dickies, they surmised. “I go to J.J. Washington P.S 117 and my name is Mujibar Julinoor Parkhurloonakiir”. The judges froze. He obviously was new to the district. They had never heard a name like that before, ever. Not even in Ghandi. This was a powerful name. There had been sixteen cominations of Bobby, Bobbie, Billie, Jo, Joe, Jimmy, Jeff, Johnson and Jackson prior to Mujibar. Stunned, judge one asked “Son, can you spell that please?”
Mujibar, not sure what to do, spelled his name, unsure of why he was being asked to do so. “Thank you son” said Miss Flume. The odds on the betting board in the parking lot changed right then.
“That boy is gonna win fer sure” said Jimmy Jeff Willerkers. Jimmy Jeff ran the filling station two concessions over and had fifty bucks on his nephew Bobby Jeff, who had already flamed out on “yawl”. “How was he supposed to know it had something to do with boats?” asked Jimmy Jeff. “That Mujibar is gonna win…jeez, he’s been spelling that name for years….anything else is gonna be easy breezy.” The odds went down on Mujibar and the money was flying around that parking lot faster than the rumour that the revenue people were out looking for stills in the woods.
“Mujibar…please spell SALICIOUS”…asked the now red pancake headed Miss Flume. Doing as he was told, Mujibar, spelled the word, gave the root, a definition and a brief history of the word usage in modern literature. Judge number one was furiously scribbling down notes, and trying to figure out how he would get a bet down on this kid before round two started.
Entrant number twenty from Jefferson Davis Temple and Hebrew school advanced which brought up the final entrant from round one. “Number Twenty-One please advance to the front of the stage”. After adjusting his glasses, after all he didn’t want a repeat of what poor Oliver did, he approached. “My name is C.J. Kay from William Clinton P.S 68” Judge one, confused by the young man’s name asked him to repeat it. “C.J. Kay” said C.J. “What is your full last name boy, you can’t just have a letter as your last name….what is the K for?” “Sir, my last name is Kay”, said C.J. “It’s not a letter”. “It most certainly is son…H I J K L…rattled off judge one. “It has to stand for something, you just can’t be CJK, that sounds like a Canadian radio station or worse yet, one of them hippy hoppy d.j fellers my granddaughter listens to. What is the K for?”. C.J said sir “My name is Christopher John Kay… not K, Kay” and then spelled it out. This only confused judge one more than he already was, and the extra time figuring out his name was doing nothing to Miss Flume’s hairdo.
“Christopher John….please spell MEPHISTOPHOLES “ said Judge one, after realizing he was never going to find out what the K was for. The crowd was getting restless and wanted to get to the truck to get re-filled and change their bets. C.J. knocked it out of the park in 2.7 seconds…”faster than Lee Harvey Oswald at a target shoot in Dallas”, one man said.
After a ten minute break, to get drinks, pee, re-tape some glasses and prop up Miss Flumes ruined plumage round two was set to begin. This went faster as the words were getting tougher, although randomly selected, judge one was inserting a few new words to keep his chance of winning with Mujibar alive. PALIMONY, ARCHEOLOGY, PARSIMONIOUS, TRIPTOTHYLAMINE , and many other words were thrown at the competitors. Each time the list of successful spellers was reduced, and the amount of clapping and the duck calls were less.
The seventh round began with just Mujibar, B.J. Collister and C. J Kay left. Before the round began the judges reminded the crowd that the words were random, and to please keep the cheering until the green light had been lit. There were more duck calls at this announcement and very little applause. Jerry Jeff was still manning the betting board, the tailgate barbeque was done, and there was only about thirty people left in the gymnasium.
The balloons on the basketball net had long since lost their get up and go, and were now hanging limply like coloured rubber scrotums and were flatter that Miss Flumes hair, which incidently, was now starting to streak the right side of her face from sweat washing out the dye. She was beginning to look like an extra in a zombie film with a brilliant orange red streak across her forehead.
“C.J.” said judge one, “please spell ARYTHMOMYACIN”. C.J. gave it a valiant effort ,but unfortunately was incorrect and the red light sent him off to the showers. This left B.J. Collister and the odds on favourite, Mujibar. The crowd was down to twenty seven now, Bobbie Jo’s folks and Mujibars immediate family.
Round after round were completed with neither one missing a word. Neither one blinked. It was a gunfight where both shooters died. These two were good, and it was never going to end. Judge one leaned over and told the other judges, “we have to finish this soon….I’m due at the wedding over to the Baptist church for nine o’clock to bless the happily marrieds and drive them both to the airport. They’re off to Cuba for their honeymoon.” The others agreed…”C.J. please spell MINISCULE said Miss Flume”. She did so, without a problem. This caused judge one to yell out “Holy Christmas” just as Mujibar got to the microphone. Thinking this was his word, he started as the judges were giving him his word. Seizing the opportunity to end it…judge one woke up judge three who red lighted poor Mujibar, ending his run at spelling immortality. “Sorry son, you tried, but, today a Mujibar lost and a B.J won.”. Before he tried to correct himself, knowing what he had just said didn’t sound quite right, Miss Flume congratulated both finalists and began the award presentations.
Thankfully, next year the eighty eighth version of The Annual Cross Cultural Twin Counties Co-Educational Public School Spelling Bee will be in the other county. Now the job of sorting out the cell phones in the orange basket begins. By the way, Betty Jo Willin had a boy …you can just guess what she named it!