by Hailey Zheng
On February 25, 2016, I left school early and drove to the Santa Barbara County Education Office, where the Santa Barbara County Spelling Bee was held. Although I had been dreading this day, I was excited for what was to come. I had been memorizing as many spellings of strange, 19th century words as I could the week before, and I was beginning to wonder if any of that studying would pay off. As it turned out, it didn’t.
Before giving me a spot to sit (and wait for an hour), the hosts handed me a nametag and a folder with a certificate inside. I was escorted to my seat, where three other nervous junior high schoolers waited in silence. For the next half an hour, I doodled on my paper and listened to kids quiz each other on the spellings of words I had never even heard of. Finally, after I had successfully covered the margins of all three sheets of paper provided with designs, the spelling bee began.
Or so I thought. A probably important man stood up from his perch on the stage and welcomed everyone to the spelling bee. After his speech, a nice woman read all of the rules and regulations of the spelling bee and how it would play out. Finally, after the judges stood behind their designated tables, the spellmaster read us the words “happy” and “birthday” to make sure everyone knew what to do.
I’m not entirely sure what designates a “round” in a spelling bee, but the first batch of words were fairly easy; but I was beginning to question whether or not I knew how to spell “almond” and “mature.” The first ten or so words I spelled perfectly, but the first word I misspelled was “berserk.” After three misspelled words, people “spelled out,” and were disqualified. If winning the bee had been very important to me, then I would have, at that point, been extremely anxious, but I was slightly relieved when I spelled it wrong. Without winning, I wouldn’t have to go up to Sacramento and, yet again, write word after word with no meaning. Next, I misspelled “conciliation,” which I spelled “consiliation.” After writing it down, I noticed that it didn’t look right, but our pencils didn’t have any erasers, and with 20 seconds on the timer per word, I didn’t have time to rewrite it. The word I spelled out on was “ferric,” which I spelled “farreck.”
Even though I had been dreading going to the spelling bee because I have always thought of them as pointless (they’re mostly just teenagers spelling words with no context), I’m glad I went. Firstly, this was one of the only times I’ve attended a competition without feeling the pressure to win, so when I was eliminated, I didn’t feel sad or angry. Secondly, the feeling of “I don’t want to be here” that I shared with most of the kids in the room was comforting.
Going to the Santa Barbara County Spelling Bee was a more-fun-than-not experience, and though I wouldn’t voluntarily go again, I wouldn’t advocate for not attending one if someone had the chance.