Friday, June 4, 2010
© Copyright 2013
Gwinnett Daily Post
WASHINGTON -- Even Shaquille O'Neal got overshadowed by a bit of controversy at the spelling bee.
O'Neal walked onstage Friday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee and challenged last year's winner to a spell-off, but the presence of the NBA great didn't generate anywhere near the passion created by a decision to suspend the semifinals so that there would be enough spellers left for ABC's primetime broadcast Friday night.
The result was that 10 spellers advanced to the championship broadcast, including six who didn't have to spell a word in the interrupted round. Essentially, the alphabetical order of the U.S. states determined which spellers got to move on the marquee event.
''I would rather have five finalists, than five who didn't deserve it,'' said 13-year-old Elizabeth Platz of Shelbina, Mo., one of the four spellers who had spelled a word correctly before the round was stopped. ''I think it was unfair.''
Elizabeth's remarks were greeted with applause from parents in the hotel ballroom where the bee is held.
It's one of the pitfalls of the growing popularity of the bee, which has to yield to the constraints of its television partners. There were 19 spellers left at the start of the round, which was too many for prime time. But when the round turned out to be brutal -- nine of the first 13 misspelled -- ABC was on the verge of having too few.
''I don't feel bad at all for giving these children the opportunity,'' bee director Paige Kimble said. ''Do I wish we could give it to 19? Yes, certainly, but that's not practical in a two-hour broadcast window. We know it's unpopular and we don't like to do it, but sometimes you can get into a position where that's exactly what you have to do.''
Kimble stressed that the move was within the rules and that the round would pick up where it left off. Only the spellers remaining at the end of the round would officially be declared finalists.