It was the year 1990. Or maybe it was the year 1991. I was sitting in my sixth grade class, feeling like I was going to puke. In just a few minutes, I would be sitting in a folding chair, next to a handful of other students. We would be on stage, staring out into a sea of fellow students, teachers, faculty members, and parents. We were about to start the Spelling Bee.
As we went backstage, behind the black curtain, my heart was beating fast. I felt alone. My sister had moved on to bigger and better things (seventh grade), and she couldn’t be there to support me. My mom had to work. My dad had to work. I wondered if anybody would be there that actually came to cheer me on. As the curtains slid to the side, I looked out into the vast audience…and felt alone.
Looking back, it’s definitely a blurred recollection. I remember words being said, students fumbling to repeat them, and students asking the origins of said words. Sometimes, they asked to use them in a sentence. I don’t recall exactly, but I think I just stood there, gazing up at the microphone, repeating the word, visualizing the word, and spelling it right.
One by one they went down. Soon, it was just me and one other person. I wish I could remember the word that I won on, but in reality, that doesn’t matter. I won. It felt good. It was an amazing feeling that I wish I would have shared with my mom, my dad, my sister, my grandparents. Instead, after I received my trophy, I looked back out into the crowd and saw a face I recognized. It was Sister Warren. My pastor’s wife came to support me. The look of pride in her eyes wasn’t quite the same as what my family’s would’ve been—but it still felt good.
A couple weeks later the District Spelling Bee was held at my school. Once again, nerves built up, but classmates went down one by one. Soon, I was the last man standing. Just like the time before, however, I felt alone. My mom had to work. My dad had to work. My sister hadn’t been kicked out of seventh grade yet.
A month or so later, I was a participant in the Jackson County Spelling Bee. The winner of this particular contest went on to participate in the Missouri State Spelling Bee, and that winner went on to the National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. Needless to say, my confidence was high.
This time, my mom went. My dad went. My sister went. My grandma and grandpa went. Like I said, my confidence was high. This was my chance to prove to them that I was as awesome as I pretended to be. This was my chance to prove to my classmates, that I was just as awesome as I pretended to be. In fact, maybe, just maybe, if I won the Jackson County Spelling Bee, I could land me a new girlfriend. After all, who wouldn’t want the shortest kid in sixth grade with buck teeth, freckles, and Harry Potter glasses?
The announcer pronounced the words, the students stood in front of that lone microphone, and stared out into the audience. Thinking to myself “I know that. I know that one. That one. That one.”
Finally, my turn. I walk up to the microphone, spy the row my family was on, swallow down the spit ball I had been nervously swishing back in forth in my mouth. The word came out the announcer’s mouth, hit my eardrum, and…it didn’t ring a bell. Seriously. I had never heard it before. Never. Once again, I felt alone. Mortified. I stammered out a “What was the word again?” It was repeated, and I was still stumped.
I spelled the word wrong. My very first round of only the most important day of my life at that point. I failed. As I was led off stage, I went straight to my grandpa, and threw my head in his lap and sobbed. It was the worst I had ever felt. My grandma and grandpa drove an hour and a half to watch me win. Not to fail.
Somewhere along the way, I have misplaced my trophy. The plaque kept falling down off of the wood it was on, and eventually thrown away. I hadn’t really thought about that old spelling bee business until the past couple of years.
My oldest daughter is in fifth grade. She is a participant in her school spelling bee. I make SURE I am there. Her mom is there. My wife was there. Win or lose, I make sure she knows we care. Of course I want her to win. I want her to feel that same happiness I felt. The contest is now different. Students use dry-erase boards to spell out words. One by one, they still go down. My daughter makes it through the first few rounds before finally, “reckless” was spelled “wreckless” on her board. My face cringed, and so did hers as she saw the correct spelling cross across her mind. Nonetheless, I am proud. An old friend of mine’s son ended up winning. I am proud of him, too.
Fast forward to December 2012. My oldest daughters have switched schools, and my oldest is in the new school’s Spelling Bee. The week before, my old friend’s son won his school spelling bee again. My daughter, fully aware of this, and somewhat in competition with herself and him, has her confidence on high. In fact, she made a t-shirt with puffy paint that said “Spelling Champ.” Every one else on stage was wearing regular clothes, and my daughter has to go and make a t-shirt.
Once again, I was there. Her mom and little sister watched as students struggled with the microphone, and stumbled over words. A couple of the words, even I wasn’t sure about. Her confidence remained on high, she kept a smile on her face, didn’t act nervous, and she killed it. Twenty something years after her daddy did it, she pulled off becoming her school’s Spelling Bee Champ! I was so incredibly proud of her, and tears were definitely in my eyes as we made eye contact. Afterwards, we took pictures, her mom and I talked about what a good job we’re doing, and my daughter’s shirt made sense.
This coming Saturday is the Jackson County Spelling Bee. She will be competing against lots of talented kids. I don’t have a clue what some of the words she’s been practicing even means. All I know, is that I will be there, her mom will be there for her, and no matter what—we will be proud of her. I have a feeling she will accomplish many things in life that we will be proud of. The fact that she won her school’s spelling bee was awesome enough. Just like her daddy, she’s always going to be a Spelling Bee Champ…