Saturday, March 25, 2023

Pandemic has hit small national spelling bee

Dev Shah’s dream of returning to the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a soccer stadium of all places.

On a cold, windy February day with occasional rain showers, Dev spent five miserable hours at Exploria Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Orlando City club, eventually finishing fourth in a regional bee, winning him his first was forced to compete. Time.

“When Orlando was not included, it was very difficult for me to win the regionals,” said 13-year-old seventh grader Dev. “The fact that it’s basically representing a third of Florida was stressful, and I started doing additional studies, but in the end it didn’t work out, unfortunately.”

While the National Spelling Bee is back — entirely in person at its usual location outside Washington for the first time since 2019 — Dev’s experiences show how the pandemic affects kids who competed for the spelling’s top prize. Spent years preparing to do. Schools and sponsor bees have dropped out of the pipeline, areas have been consolidated and bees have less than half the spellers they were three years ago.

“There is a feeling that COVID marks a significant break between the first bee and now the spelling bee,” said Grace Walters, the 2018 champion and coached three of the 2019 co-champions. “And I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not, but I’m trying to have a positive attitude about it.”

Another big change: Cincinnati-based Scripps broke with longtime partner ESPN and will air the contest on its own networks, ION and Bounce. Actor and literacy advocate LeVar Burton was hired as host and will interview Speller and their families backstage, and last year’s champion, Jella Avant-Garde, will be part of the broadcast as an analyst.

Scripps had 245 regional sponsors for the Bee in 2020 that were eventually canceled due to the pandemic. That number has come down to 198 for this year’s bee run from Tuesday to Thursday.

Bee Executive Director J. “Many of our sponsors, even those who are still with us, have expressed concerns and challenges posed by the pandemic,” said Michael Darnil. “Some of our sponsors realized what their mission was and maybe the bee didn’t fit. Maybe they lost the person[al] Shakti and his core business had to be reconsidered and Bee was not a part of it. A good reset has been done in a lot of areas.”

Newspapers historically sponsored most regional beehives, but as the print media business crumbled, sponsors became a haven for companies, nonprofits, and government entities. Polk County Tourism & Sports Marketing, which sponsored the regional bee that Dev won in 2020 and ’21, was among those who dropped out. This forced Dev to make the two-hour journey from his home in Seminole, Florida to Orlando, where the judges trembled as the open-air competition dragged on.

“He even switched vocabulary for 20 minutes and he realized we were getting him right, so he switched back to spelling,” he said. “You know, you start to lose your concentration after five hours. You start to lose your stamina.”

The pro sports franchise has vacated the sponsor. The NFL’s Carolina Panthers host a huge regional bee that sends four spellers from North Carolina and two from South Carolina. The Tennessee Titans do the same for most of their states. And Scripps runs five of its regional beehives for children who lived in locations without sponsors.

Scripps is encouraging sponsors from large areas to send multiple children to bee. The price tag for sponsoring a speller is $3,900. For two, it’s $7,500, and for three, it’s $10,000.

The drop in sponsorships isn’t the main reason Bee is getting smaller this year. The 2018 and 2019 bees had a wild-card program designed as an alternative route to bee for spellers in difficult areas. Walters’ student and talent-rich Dallas area wild card Karthik Nemmani won the bee in the program’s first year.

But in 2019, more than half of the 562 beekeepers were wild cards, many of them young children who were not competitive at the national level. Scripps had planned to reduce the program in 2020. Then Bee’s longtime executive director left and his replacement, Darnil, eliminated the wild card altogether.

“It turned out to be a pay-for-play kind of opportunity, which is quite evident with the mission and the heart of the bee,” Darnil said.

File - Akash Vucotti, 9, Of San Angelo, Texas, Competes In The Second Round Of The Scripps National Spelling Bee On Tuesday, May 28, 2019 In Oxon Hill, Md.

FILE – Akash Vucotti, 9, of San Angelo, Texas, competes in the second round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 in Oxon Hill, MD.

This leaves 234 spellers left in this year’s beehive, all of whom are qualified on merit. There are many familiar faces. Akash Vucotti, a 13-year-old from San Angelo, Texas, who initially qualified as a first grader, is competing for the fifth time. Fourteen-year-old Maya Jadhav from Fitchburg, Wisconsin, and 14-year-old Harini Logan from San Antonio, Texas, are each making their fourth appearance.

Spellers are out of competition when they reach ninth grade, meaning those who qualified as sixth graders in 2019 never experienced another “B week.” Last year only the top 11 spellers competed individually in a mostly empty field at Walt Disney World.

Harini said, “I think it is a privilege to have the opportunity for all Class VIII students in 2022 which we did not have in the last two years.” “Experiencing that as our finale, we are very fortunate to have it.”


This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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