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CLINE: Young spellers earn an 'A' at the Bee

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

I was back in my familiar chair as a judge at the Daily Post sponsored Gwinnett County Spelling Bee this past weekend. And that competition was on my mind as I watched a different sort of competitive event Sunday.

As the Giants drove the field for the game-winning touchdown in the game's final minutes, the announcers talked about pressure and how the New York quarterback was handling it. Sure he read some defenses and avoided the rush, I thought to myself, but let's see Eli Manning spell "eupepsia" in front of a crowded auditorium with everything on the line.

Sumedh Garimella, an eight-grader from Duluth's Hull Middle School, did just that. In my opinion, he and the other 12 finalists handled pressure as well as any football player. And I guess in the end Sumedh and Eli did have eupepsia in common (the word's definition: good digestion) in that neither choked.

Each year when I judge the county bee, I can't help but marvel at both the intelligence and poise of the competitors. And each year, as I glance at my judge's sheet containing the list of words that will be used, I spot the ones I figure will cause the most difficulty and lament the random nature that will assign that word to a particular contestant.

This year, the first such word was "chickabiddy." A first-round word, the eighth of the competition, it was destined to knock out one poor soul. If you know the definition of the word is "a child -- a term of endearment" then you're ahead of me. If you could spell it before today, well you might have just had a chance to win the event.

However, to win the bee, you not only have to know how to spell many difficult words (some that I would almost swear are made up) but you have to be able to do so while standing in front of a microphone with a single spotlight illuminating you for all to see. Talk about a solitary, and intimidating, pursuit. Nobody is around to block for you here.

But the kids handle it like champs, as evidenced by the fact that no epithets were used though the word "epithet" was spelled correctly.

As a judge, you get to enjoy the words without facing the pressure of having to spell them. It's like your own version of "Words With Friends" -- made all the better by not having to interact with Alec Baldwin.

I always enjoy learning new words. As one of my judging partners whispered to me during the competition: "I not only couldn't spell that, I didn't even know it was a word." This year I learned the word "inimical" even though I had been living it for years when the Falcons played the Saints. I also learned that my dog is often a good example of "otiose" while my behavior during a rough loss by the University of Miami can be described as "jejune."

I learned that it was impressive that no spellers displayed any hints of "bruxism" despite the stress they were under, and that having your hygiene described as "hircine" is anything but a compliment.

Something I also learn every year: These kids, much like Eli, are out of my league.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.