Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Grand Finale

We're back home in Marblehead, but do want to close out Bee Week for you.
Last night was the closing banquet, a formal affair with a lovely dinner followed by a DJ and dancing for the Spellers. The Spellers sit at banquet tables in the front of a very large ballroom, the parents and other supporting family members are at tables in the back. All in all, there are about 1,000 folks in attendance.
The evening began with a Presentation of the Colors by the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard, followed by The United States Marine Band Brass Quintet playing "The Star Spangled Banner."
After this fanfare, there is a slide presentation that honors all 293 of the Champion Spellers, Daniel tied for 42nd place.
Once the five course meal has been enjoyed and the tables cleared, there was a wonderful speech given by 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist, Shawn Johnson. She was a very eloquent speaker, we were all very impressed. She told the kids that she was only a few years older than them, but had already realized how important it was to stick to your dream, to remain true to yourself, and to welcome new opportunities as they present themselves. Shawn will be a high school senior in the fall, with aspirations to go to Stanford. She wanted the Spellers to understand how important the discipline they developed in studying for the Bee was and how "cool" it was to be smart. 
Kavya Shivashankar also gave a brief speech. Kavya made four appearances in the Spelling Bee, it was not until her fourth try that she achieved her dream of winning. Kavya too, pointed out the importance of the discipline she acquired in studying for her Bees. She urged the Spellers to be thankful to their parents for the time they put in helping them studying. You cannot imagine the feeling the parents had when all of the Spellers gave their parents a standing ovation.
The dinner ended and the fun began. We headed out to the lounge while the kids blew off a lot of pent up energy.
Now, we're back in Marblehead, we've been able to see Speller 128's appearance on the local ABC news. We haven't yet watched the Spelling Bee, but we'll get to that before too long. 
Tonight, Michael and Barbara went to the Friends of the Marblehead Public Schools Summer Soiree. The company was great, it was fun to see friends and talk about adult stuff, although, each conversation did begin with the Bee. The Friends event is always fun - we loved the casual theme this year and the food from Kelly's Roast Beef rivaled any meal we had in DC last week.
So, this ends my first blog experience. I enjoyed it, would have like to have learned more about layout and design, and think that I just might continue blogging under a fun nom de plume.

Friday, May 29, 2009


The morning after the Bee held more excitement for Speller 128 and his family, but first, fortification. We met with Bee champion, Kavya Shivashankar and her parents at breakfast. I should say we had breakfast, they were running to get to one interview after another. Mr. Shivashankar shared the media schedule they'll be following for the next week; let's just say it will be hard to turn on any major network and not catch of glimpse of this lovely family.
We also had a final chat with Tom Bergeron, what a nice guy and, he's genuinely funny. Tom was flying up to Boston today to emcee tomorrow night's New England Emmy show. A native of Massachusetts, he was telling us how much he enjoys Boston in the Spring and Summer.
After breakfast we had to catch a cab (the cab driver knew exactly where to go) over to the NBC Studios. Barbara had surprised Daniel by setting up a meeting with NBC News Producer, Virginia Coyne. Virginia had interviewed Daniel and his friend Kennyi for The Today Show back in 2007, and Barbara and Virginia had kept in touch. We met with all of the technical personnel and they explained their jobs to Daniel. Then we met with Steve Handelsman, a National Correspondent for NBC News, who asked Daniel lots of questions about the Spelling Bee. Tracy Potts, a local NBC anchor, talked with Daniel about how younger kids look up to the Spellers as role models. 
As if all the above were not thrill enough for an aspiring journalist, Daniel was then taken into the studio with the Capitol in the background (it's a real window, not a faux backdrop), miked up and able to read the news. Then Virginia interviewed him on camera about the Bee. She is having the reel edited and will be sending us the DVD - watch out Brian Williams.
Of course I must report on the food of the day, today we ate in The Source, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant that is near the Newseum. Like in all of Puck's restaurants, the food was very fresh and flavorful, but also presented in a dramatic fashion. This establishment is clearly a place to see and be seen on the Hill, we enjoyed the experience.
Fortified by a wonderful lunch, we then took on one of Washington's newest museums, the Newseum. This museum is dedicated to the preservation of the First Amendment Rights; we spent three hours in it and feel like we barely scratched its surface.
Now, we are moments away from the Bee's closing banquet which will be followed by a DJ and dancing for the Spellers. The banquet is a formal event, when we were here in 2007 it was filmed for the Food Network. Who knows what surprises might be in store for this year's soiree.
More later tonight or tomorrow - we'll have to see.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Champion

There's a new Spelling Bee champion, and her name is Kavya Shivashankar. Kavya has been in the Bee for each of the past four years, her hard work and perseverance paid off in a big way.
The audience filled the room more than 90 minutes before the broadcast was scheduled to begin, everyone wanted a prime seat for the big event. At 7:45 Paige Kimble, the Bee's Director, took the stage to introduce Dr. Jill Biden; the audience went wild. Dr. Biden spoke to the 293 spellers and their families about their dedication and about the pride they should take in themselves. She also spoke about the need to continue learning. At 9:00, an hour into the Bee, Dr. Biden left, only to return about 40 minutes later in full ball gown attire. Apparently, she had another formal obligation, made a cursory appearance, and then returned to the Bee for the remainder of the evening. Perhaps we are reading too much into it, but we felt that her returning to the Bee sent a message from the Obama and Biden administration, that smart is the new cool.
Another special guest was gymnast Shawn Johnson. Yes, she did just win Dancing With the Stars, but she came because her eighth grade teacher was Mary Brooks, the head judge of the Bee. 
We were sitting directly in front of  hosts Tom Bergeron and Paul Loeffler. Paul Loeffler is a sportscaster who competed in the Bee in 1990. We heard some of what they were reporting, but are anxious to see the broadcast once we return home.
We ended our night with a nightcap, and as luck would have it met up with Rich Boehne, President and CEO of the E.W. Scripps Company. We expressed our gratitude to him and Scripps, and to our local sponsor, The Daily Item, for all they do for the spellers. We had a great conversation with him and know that the Bee is in more than capable hands. 
So, the stress is off the kids for a few days, tomorrow is a day full of sightseeing, and then, the formal dinner and party that caps off Bee Week. Stick around, we'll be posting to the end, and tomorrow may hold a surprise or two!


Today is a very big day for 41 spellers, the semi-final round of the National Spelling Bee takes is about to begin. You already know that 252 spellers are out of the competition, but that hasn't stopped them or their parents from crowding into the Independence Ballroom to cheer on the remaining competitors. There are a number of returning spellers and there are clearly early favorites. We are rooting for Kennyi Aouad because Daniel and Kennyi became friends during their first trips to the Bee and have remained friendly since. Barbara and Michael are sitting with the general audience, but Daniel has been invited to sit with Sala, Kennyi's mother, in the family section of the ballroom.
Many of you have watched this round on ESPN, so I won't give you the blow-by-blow. I can tell you that everyone in the room was riveted by the competition, including Tom Bergeron, who is hosting tonight's finals. In the end, eleven spellers will go on to the final round and our Kennyi is still standing. I'm not 100% certain that my scorekeeping is accurate, but I believe that three of the eleven finalists are in the Bee for the first time, that is quite an accomplishment.
After the competition, we had a terrific lunch in Matchbox, a restaurant recommended by our friend Sam Sheinberg. We had wood-fired pizzas with an heirloom tomato salad that was simply yummy. Then, it was on to the National Portrait Gallery, where our docent took us up to the area with all of the athletes' portraits. Here too, we each had a favorite, Daniel's was a painting of Muhammad Ali, Michael's was of golfer Jack Nicklaus, and Barbara was taken with a very simple portrait of tennis great Arthur Ashe. None of us had ever been to this arm of the Smithsonian Museum, but we are certain to return.
I'll try to post later tonight, but now, we're waiting for the moment when the doors will open for the Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship Finals Live on ABC. By the end of the evening there will be a newly crowned champion. We can't wait!


No posting last night, we were too busy celebrating. Yes, it is true that Speller 128 did not advance to the semi-final round; only 41 of the 293 spellers did. Spellers could earn a maximum of 31 points, the cut to make it into the semi-finals was 28. Spelling is an unforgiving sport. A baseball player can make an error in the top of the 9th inning only to hit the walk-off in the bottom. Spellers have no room for error, it is a sport that accepts only perfection.
We are celebrating because Speller 128, Daniel, is here in Washington, DC, at the National Spelling Bee. He earned his way here by studying hard, sometimes giving up more fun activities, to spend time on Latin roots, or words with unusual beginning letters like "gnostic." There are spellers from each of the fifty states, five from Massachusetts alone, and international spellers from Ghana, Jamaica, China, to name a few. Any Bee official you speak with will tell you that these kids are all champions and we are proud of our champion.
Yesterday morning began very early. Daniel was in the first group of spellers in Round Two. Spellers 1 to 145 reported to the stage at 7:45 a.m. Speller 128's Round Two word was "fertilizer." He asked all of the allowable questions, part of speech, etymology, alternate pronunciations, and use in a sentence. I was getting nervous thinking he didn't know the word, but, he explained later, that he had been sitting on the stage for 127 other spellers to go, he wanted to wake himself up and to compose himself before he began to spell. When he began, he looked right at the judges, spoke clearly and loudly and got his word right.
After Round Two we found a posting on the message board that our local ABC affiliate wanted to interview Speller 128. He was "miked up" and then proceeded to answer all of the interviewer's questions with absolute poise and charm. Barbara quickly called the Veteran's Middle School and emailed The Daily Item to alert them to Daniel's upcoming TV appearance.
The day continued, Round Three spelling began at 1:15. Round Three words were substantially more challenging than Round Two. More than 30% of the spellers incorrectly spelled their word. Once again, Speller 128 approached the microphone, asked all of the permitted questions, and spelled occision. The blogger in me feels it's necessary to simply state the facts, but the mom in me feels it's important to note that Speller 128 used good manners in his questioning. 
After his two spelling rounds we had nothing to do but wait until the semi-finalists would be announced. We were hopeful, because Speller 128 felt he had done well on the written test. When the 41 semi-finalists were announced and his number was not called, he took it like a true Chicago Cubs fan, and said "Wait 'til next year."
We had our celebratory dinner in the Capital Grille, the host and wait staff were excited to have a spelling champion in their midst and treated us like honored guests. Our meal was wonderful and after being fully sated we walked to the Monuments and Memorials. 
It had been our hope to visit here on Memorial Day, but a thunderstorm caused us to postpone those plans. While we are certain that the Monuments are awe inspiring in the daylight, at night they are truly magnificent. The Korean War Memorial, with its soldiers tramping through rough terrain, is very evocative of the loneliness and the unknown that the soldiers must have felt. The Lincoln Memorial, with the words of President Lincoln carved into the walls surrounding it, is monumental in its size. The newest Memorial, the World War II Memorial, honors not only those that fought and those that lost their lives, but those that supported the war effort at home as well. The sound of rushing water from the fountain blocks out the everyday sounds and brings one into a reflective moment.
It was a long day, a happy day, a day to be proud, and now we're on to the next adventure - the semi-finals and the finals.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Test Day

It's today. The first round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee began for Speller 128 at 4:30 p.m. Tex, a.k.a. Speller 128, a.k.a Daniel, will be a guest blogger later in this post, but for now, Barbara will chronicle the day for you.
We began our day with a tour of the Capitol, and continuing with our Amazing Race theme, we managed to get the only cab driver in DC who did not know how to get to the Capitol Building. It should be no surprise to many of you that we were running late and this cabbie's less than stellar navigation skills added to our stress level. Michael took out our pocket map and guided the cab driver to the destination. The Capitol Building's architecture and art are awesome; after the tour we decided to drop in our Senators' offices. 
Senator Kennedy's office is full of memorabilia covering his brothers John and Robert and his own career in the US Senate. His aides were very interested in Daniel and his spelling prowess and encouraged him to continue on with his studies. Upon our leaving the office we were invited to come back and told to bring Murphy, our Portuguese Water Dog, next time we visit.
We had open access to the Hart and Russell office buildings; it was interesting to look into all of the Senators' chambers. We were able to follow the underground tunnels which was helpful, since it was a blustery, rainy day in DC. Too bad we couldn't talk our way on to the subway system used by the Senators, but it was not without trying. 
Most exciting was the fact that we were outside the Supreme Court Building when the announcement was made regarding Justice Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Court. There were lots of reporters and, believe it or not, people already protesting her nomination. We'll be touring the Court on Thursday and hope to have more information for you after that visit.
Daniel's favorite DC restaurant is the Mitsitam Cafe, in the National Museum of the American Indian. Mitsitam means "Let's Eat," in the language of the Delaware and Piscataway Peoples, and the restaurant features Native foods of the Western Hemisphere. Michael's meal came from the Great Plains; Barbara's meal came from South America; and Daniel's meal came from Meso America. Everyone's choice was flavorful and fresh, three satisfied customers.
We didn't have much time to tour this beautiful building, but we made it a point to see the Fritz Scholder exhibit. Scholder was the 20th century's most influential, most successful, and most controversial painter of Indians. Daniel and Michael's favorite piece was an acrylic on canvas, Heart Indian (2004). Barbara's favorite piece was Indian No. 1, an oil on canvas from 1967.
Comic Art Indigene, an exhibit that explained how comic art has been used to tell the story of the Native American experience, was another stop on our too brief visit. 
We returned to the hotel in time for Speller 128 to take a rest prior to his Round 1 test. When we got into the room there was a voice mail for Daniel from David Biderman, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. Biderman is covering the Bee for the WSJ, and wanted to interview Speller 128 about baseball. We'll post the link up when the article appears. 
Now, for our guest blogger, Speller 128 himself.
Today has been the most jam-packed and hectic day yet. I'm ready for bed, but I have to have my say first. Our trip to the Capitol was really interesting. If Mr. Shull, my Social Studies teacher, or Mrs. Sands, my Latin teacher, are reading this, wait 'til you see the pictures I took of Latin and Greek architecture! I most enjoyed the House Gallery, because I thought it was very cool seeing seeing the place where the House of Representatives meet. 
Of course, coming into the Bee my mom was telling me I wouldn't get interviewed, and not to expect anything. What a shock when earlier today I found an interview request from Mr. David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, my mention of the Cubs in my bio, had piqued his interest, as sports fans are few and far between in the National Bee. I had a nice chat with him, and it will be featured in the Wall Street Journal sports section on Thursday. 
Soon after my interview, I headed into the dreaded room, the place where spellers' wills are broken. I entered the room to take my written test. Sworn to secrecy, I cannot say anything but this: As put in Paige Kimble's own words "I feel like I did a great job." I will update all my fans on the details of this test late tomorrow evening. 
Early this evening, we headed to an assembly to discuss the rules and responsibilities of spellers and officials. Here I reunited with my good buddy Kennyi, we met in the 2007 Bee.
Finally, we headed to the room where I decided to quickly review my Round 3 words and blog about my day. I have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow, so it's time for me to hit the sack. Peace.
-Spelr 128

Monday, May 25, 2009


Breakfast this a.m. was buzzing with Bee excitement. Repeat spellers, of which there are 69, were becoming reacquainted with each other, comparing their winning words, words they just learned and words they don't want to hear in the Bee. Parents too were met with familiar faces and compared stories about their champions' approach to studying. Michael had a nice chat with Kavya Shivashankar's dad. Kavya is a four time repeater who was ranked fourth in the 2008 Bee. They talked about the dedication necessary to become a spelling champion and when the talk turned to Kavya's 7-year-old sister possibly following in her footsteps her mom quickly piped in "Only if she wants."
After breakfast we took a brisk walk and saw that the television trucks were beginning to load in their equipment. On Thursday morning the semi-finals will be carried on ESPN and the finals will be on ABC that same evening. Today lights were being hung in the Bee venue, cable was being laid and camera men were beginning to follow the spellers about. 
Today was the first "official" Bee event, all of the spellers and their family members, probably close to 1,000 people, were loaded onto buses and brought out to The Pavilions of Turkey Run in McLean, Virginia, for The Great American Barbeque. There were games, a DJ and Karaoke, bounce houses , clowns, face painting and plenty of great food. Of course there was more socializing for the kids and for their parents too. Michael and Barbara had a stimulating conversation with Aaron Rabinowitz and his dad, a professor in the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Rabinowitz is writing a medical textbook on environmentally based diseases, and we were fascinated with his subject matter and ability to explain it on a layperson's level. 
Barbara and Michael also talked with a  number of parents who were all concerned about the economic health of newspapers. All of the spellers in the Bee are sponsored by local newspapers and all are so grateful for the opportunity to participate. We worried that the loss of the newspapers, in addition to the negative impact they would have on their communities, would also adversely affect the Bee. So, you who are reading this blog on line, make sure to read your local paper in its print edition!
Enough of the serious talk, while the adults were saving the world, the kids were having fun. Speller 128, Tex, even managed to practice his pitching skills, getting the radar gun up to 52 m.p.h.
While the bus ride out to VA was chatty, the bus ride bag was pretty quiet, the spellers had their fun and were now once again preparing for the bee. Speller 128 hit the books as soon as we got back to the hotel studying until it was time for dinner. For those of you waiting to hear about tonight's dinner, forget it. While the meal was good, it was nothing like Cafe Atlantico and as such will go "unblogged."
And now, for something truly AMAZING, when we returned from dinner upon walking past the hotel reception desk, Daniel said, "Hey, that's Dan from The Amazing Race." We are, amazingly, a family that has never seen a single American Idol, or Dancing With the Stars, but we never miss The Amazing Race. During Season 13, Dan and his partner Andrew were our favorites, and we were excited that they made it to the finals. Sadly, they didn't win, but maybe, just maybe they'll be on an All-Star version of the show. We had the nicest conversation with Dan, a graduate of ASU with a degree in Tourism Management. He's a real mensch, and a winner in our book.