In light of the eight-way tie (really, an eight-way tie?!?!) at the National Spelling Bee- “Yes, I’d like to spell the word. R-E-S-O-L-U-T-I-O-N’. We dig back into the archives…

Previously appearing on May 30, 2009 on “Preston’s Perspective Blogspot Page”

You always think there will be another opportunity…the excitement of an improbable run often leads one to believe it’s the beginning of something special–and I thought a certain final four appearance would be the beginning of a dynastic run. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t know when it’s merely a one-shot deal.

Am I referring to the Denver Nuggets appearance in this year’s Western Conference Finals? Georgia Tech’s lethal weapon three that reached the Final Four in 1990? The Seattle Seahawks improbable run behind Curt Warner to the AFC Title game in 1983? Not exactly…I’m referring to my final four appearance in the Fifth Grade Spelling Bee.

The National Spelling Bee takes center stage this week…and just like athletics one has the thrill of victory (this years winning word for Kavya Shivashankar was “laodicean“)…the agony of defeat ( “maecenas” was the word that eliminated second place finisher Tim Ruiter)… with stall tactics (“origin?”…”pronunciation?”…”root”) that would make Dean Smith’s four corner offense appear up-tempo–I was hoping a judge would simply reply “just spell the damn word!”

My one shining moment? In the fifth grade I somehow advanced to the final four at Memorial School in Bedford NH. The fact I even qualified for the finals was an upset in and of itself; similar to the era of one-bid conferences in the NCAA basketball tournament–there were only automatic bids for each homeroom… and in my class stood the UCLA of spellers–defending 4th grade champion Matt Butterick. On his way to Harvard and retiring before the age of 30, somehow he forgot a “c” in excited.  We’re talking on the level of that year’s NCAA Tournament when #1 seeds DePaul and Oregon State lost in the round of 32.  All of a sudden there was a huge window of opportunity for the rank and file spellers of Ms. Mullen’s class.  On another note, I don’t know if there’s any truth to the rumor his loss like Maryland’s to NC State in 1974 spurred the inclusion of at-large qualifiers in future bees.

What followed instead of a glorious march to victory was an ugly battle of attrition…as runner up Mary Bradley and I kept misspelling words with the other unable to spell the next one correctly to wrap things up–like two punch-drunk fighters in the 14th round we staggered towards stupidity. Somehow I survived and advanced– I was NC State two years before Jimmy V cut down the nets–and I’m just thankful I didn’t run around Miss Mullen’s class looking for someone to hug.

The Finals would pit all nine home room winners during lunch recess…and like Syracuse playing the East regional in Albany I had somewhat of a home classroom advantage–the bee was held in Miss Maitland’s room where I took Social Studies–right next door to Mullen’s. I knew the feel of the carpet on my feet…the smell of the chalkboard…the acoustics of the room and how my voice echoed as I spelled words out…this was going to be the start of something special.

Slowly other automatic qualifiers were eliminated…and then there were four:  Dennis Mays, Chris Poppenga, Dave Proulx and myself. Proulx drew “kindergarden” and spelled it “kindergartan”.  The word then came to me-and I quickly slamdunked the word by saying “-den”.  I was ready to make my move! Bring on vacuum and serendipity-but wait! “Kindergarten”? It’s spelled “Kindergarden”–right? What the hell’s a “garten”? Years later I look back and realize I should have asked country of origin… 

Postscript–Dennis Mays wound up winning on “shepherd”…and I turned into the Spelling Bee’s version of the early 80’s DePaul Blue Demons… big on regular season reputation while suffering ridiculous upset postseason losses in future years  (“conferance”, “onamatapea” and “Krzyzewski” my downfall)… so my advice to the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers–yes, you’re both young and represent the future of the Eastern Conference as well as the league– but you never know the size of your window of opportunity until its closed like the enrollment date to a private kindergarten.

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