Young speller starts quest for honors at national bee

May 31, 2006

Did you know that the word "agonal" means "of, relating to, or associated with agony and especially the death agony?"

That's the definition on the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. And, when confronted with such an unfamiliar word, most people would be able to look it up.

Not the participants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. They must spell each word from memory, or use their knowledge of language to puzzle out whatever odd word they've been assigned to spell.

Anna Baldasarre, a 14-year-old Smithsburg Middle School student, won her trip to the national event, which begins today, by winning the Washington County bee in March.


She did so by spelling enough unfamiliar words to keep a copy editor busy for days with the dictionary.

Since her local win, she has spent at least an hour-and-a-half per day studying the 4,000 to 5,000 words in the padideia, a study guide of sorts for spelling bee contenders.

But the spellers must do more than learn the words. They must stand alone on stage and spell them, knowing that if they make a single mistake, the bee is over for them.

Imagine if they ran baseball games like a spelling bee. An infielder who bobbled a ground ball or a batter who struck out would be out of the game. For them, there would be no next inning.

And what if the working world worked that way, and one mistake on the job meant you were fired? There would be no second chances, no starting fresh again tomorrow, but just a pink slip and an escort to the parking lot.

We use these examples, ridiculous as they are, to make a point. For anyone who has not seen a spelling bee in person, it is quite an experience.

While an audience watches, the speller is called to the microphone and given a word to spell. Though he or she may ask some questions - the word's definition or its language origin - there comes a time when the spelling must begin.

At that point, there is no consulting with coaches or teammates. Guessing is allowed, but if the guess is wrong and the judges say "incorrect," then the speller must leave the competition.

For many years, The Herald-Mail has sponsored the local bee - and sent the winner to the nationals - because we believe spelling is an important skill.

But participating in a bee also teaches young people how to compete and how to handle defeat in an event in which there can only be one winner.

We wish Anna, also a prize-winning young author, the best of luck. We know it won't be the last time she accomplishes something great.

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