Staying positive is key when appeals are denied

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child

November 30, 2007|By LISA PREJEAN

It was the difference between an "ab" sound and an "ob" sound, which normally wouldn't be a big deal, but this was a spelling bee where one letter can mean the difference between winning or losing.

We were in Bowie, Md., a few weeks ago. My son had won his grade level and had made it to the final round of competition.

The first word in the finals was "bulldozer."

My initial thought was, "Is this the final round or the round for beginners?"

As any veteran spelling bee participant can tell you, seemingly easy words often are interspersed between obscure ones. I call them "seemingly" easy because a word is only easy if you know it.

In one preliminary round, my son correctly spelled "homiletics." Then the next contestant got "bumblebee."

Go figure.

Another contestant missed "juice."

"Juice. G - Ah, man - u-i-c-e."

(It's easy to think "j" and say "g.")


Each time I help students prepare for spelling bees, I tell them not to feel badly if they spell something incorrectly: "If you spell a word incorrectly in a spelling bee, it doesn't mean that you are a poor speller. It just means you got a word you didn't know or perhaps you became nervous."

When my son approached the microphone in the finals, the announcer said what sounded to me like "obstrucity."

"Are there any alternative pronunciations?" my son asked.

As his coach, I immediately tried to figure out why he was asking that question. Was the announcer saying the word correctly? This would make a difference if it is a word the speller doesn't know. I didn't have much time to think about it, though. My son had started spelling.


"That is incorrect."

My first thought was that the "s" should have been a "c." (Obviously, this was a word I didn't know, either.)

Then the judge said, "The correct spelling is a-b-s-t-r-u-s-i-t-y."

I had relaxed a bit because I thought I knew what the mistake was. Then I heard the "s" and it suddenly dawned on me why he had asked for an alternative pronunciation.

The word was pronounced incorrectly.

I fumbled with my dictionary, trying to find the right spelling and pronunciation. Then I filed an appeal. I showed the spelling master the correct pronunciation in the dictionary and pronounced the word correctly for him.

The bee was stopped, the head judge took the competition tape to a back room and was gone for what seemed like a long time.

One of my son's friends said if it took that long to make a decision, they should have just given him another word.

Yeah, probably. That's what I would have done if I were running the bee.

But I wasn't, and my appeal was denied.

I reminded the students who were with me that the decision of the judges is final. We need to accept that. Young people should see adults respond in a positive manner when things don't go their way. This is part of the value of extracurricular activities. We model the correct response for the kids we are coaching.

In their growing up years, students might be frustrated by the decisions of a music judge, a referee, an umpire, a spelling master, a teacher.

In later years, they might be disappointed by rejected appeals made to spouses, employers, the government ... even to God.

Sometimes, an authority will not rule in their favor. They need to learn how to refocus their energy when an appeal is denied.

As we were waiting for the head judge to return, I read the definition for abstruse - the root word for abstrusity: "hard to understand because of being extremely complex, intellectually demanding, highly abstract, etc."

I had to laugh at the irony. Later, when I showed the definition to my son, he smiled, too, especially when I said, "You can't always rely on your knowledge of spelling rules or pronunciation clues. Sometimes you just have to know the word so you don't become frustrated by the abstrusity of the situation."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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