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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Attention to spelling bee becomes a f-r-e-n-z-y

I didn’t think I’d have time to write my column this week.

Actually, I’ll be honest — I was hoping I wouldn’t.

Once I decided to write about the Scripps National Spelling Bee, I figured I’d wait to write it until our local speller, Mentor Shore Middle School eighth-grader Vishnu Nistala, finished his run in the contest.

It’s only fair, after all. How can I write about a kid who’s still working?

The bee actually finished up on Thursday night, but I normally finish my column that morning.
I spend the next day and a half contributing to our weekend editions.

I said “normally” for a reason.

That’s because there was nothing “normal” about Wednesday and Thursday as the bee was progressing.

I’ll just be honest and say I didn’t get a lot of work done during those days because of how focused I was on the spellers in the bee.

It should have been a lot easier, because we knew Vishnu’s number was 201. When they were on 52 or 124, I should have been content to know he was a long way away from standing on stage and spelling.

But, no, I was reading the tweets as they came in from both Scripps Howard’s official site and The Associated Press writer covering the event.

I was retweeting when a speller did something cute. I was sending notes to co-workers when a word was listed that didn’t really even seem like a word. I also shared moments when I thought the word was too hard compared to others’ words.

After Wednesday’s rounds, we found out Vishnu’s scores from a first-round computer test and two words tackled in Rounds 2 and 3 were enough to put him into the second day.

Then, on Thursday morning, when I’m normally writing this column, in addition to all the stuff I did on Wednesday as the bee was progressing, I added runs across the newsroom to see the Ohio spellers on ESPN2.

A few of us gathered and got a chuckle at the sportslike graphics the network put up on the screen as the youngsters were toiling away.

My favorite was the part of speech octagon that appeared next to the line where the word would show up once the contestant started spelling.

It reminded me of the graphic during a baseball game that shows how many guys are on base.

The News-Herald sponsored Vishnu’s trip to Washington, D.C., to take part in the bee. When he showed up on TV, he wore a sign around his neck with his name and the words “The News-Herald” and “Willoughby, Ohio” underneath.

That’s beyond cool.

Add to that that a few months ago, I sat down on a stage at Auburn Career Center to judge a spelling bee for the first time in my life. The winner of that bee was a young man with jet black hair, wearing the bright red Shore Middle School hoodie that he called his lucky shirt.

Vishnu smiled a little bit when he won that night, but he and his father, Sat, both agreed he had a lot of work to do to win the trip to Washington.

When I next saw him, at Kirtland Public Library for the Tri-County Bee, wearing that same hoodie, he still had that calm, unflappable demeanor as he bested a Geauga County rival in the 40th round to win the trip to D.C.

I looked for the hoodie on stage Thursday, but found it replaced by a neat olive green polo shirt and khaki shorts.

But the calm was still there, along with the presence of mind to ask pronouncer Dr. Jacques Bially if he was indeed pronouncing a word correctly.

Bially smiled, then broke the news that while he couldn’t say yes, “we certainly will tell you if we hear anything that is wrong.”

The crowd laughed along with Vishnu.

The word Vishnu was inquiring about was araphorostic. But he spelled it arapharostic, slipping in an A instead of the first O.

Hearing the bell that signified an incorrect spelling, Vishnu turned and walked out of the camera shot.

While we probably won’t see that red hoodie again until it gets cold, if you spot that jet-black hair around town, I hope you’ll say hello and tell him that he did a great job.

I can’t imagine the pressure those kids feel as they walk up to the microphone to spell words that sometimes are 15 or 18 letters long. They walk up there to find a microphone, cameras, hot lights, a huge crowd and the expectations of family, friends and their hometown.

Vishnu doesn’t have to worry. He made us proud.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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