Spell Check

Melissa Stagnaro

As an Oxford grad, I was extremely proud of Oxford eighth grader Lea Davis for making it all the way to the National Spelling Bee. I followed her progress closely while she was in Washington and I think it’s safe to say that she did better than I would have in those conditions.

As he has seen some of my more glaring errors, my editor will probably be more than a little surprised to know that I too was a spelling champion while a student at the Oxford Middle School.

When I make one of those errors (which I admit happens entirely too often), I try to defend myself. I tell him I wasn’t always a poor speller, but he remains unconvinced. You see, I’ve gone a little down hill since then. A decline I blame largely on spell check, and all those years of studying French.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I wasn’t even that great of a speller back then. In fact, there is a distinct possibility I won that long-ago school spelling bee by default.

Mr. Stevens (who was the Middle School guidance counselor before he went on to becoming first the building principal and then Oxford’s superintendent.) moderated the competition, I remember. A couple of rounds in, he managed to stump us all with one word: gaggle (which Webster’s defines as a flock of geese not in flight). He pronounced it with a long “e” and one after one eliminated the lot of us. I think I was the first to go.

With no one left on stage to pronounce the winner, we were all given a second chance and somehow I managed to come out on top. The next stop was the regional competition, which at that time was held in Binghamton.

For the life of me, I can’t remember where the regional event was held. BCC or BU perhaps, or maybe at the Press & Sun building. What I do remember is a grueling written exam which made me doubt my ability to even spell my own name.

Far too many of the words sounded like Greek to me. Perhaps because a few of them actually were, like onomatopoeia, which if you’re not familiar with it (and I wasn’t) is a word for words which sound like the sound they represent. (Like hiss, buzz or, my favorite, tintinnabulation – the sound of bells. Now why couldn’t that have been one of those words? That I can spell.)

Needless to say, I didn’t advance further in the competition.

As I looked at the list of words Lea had to spell in Tuesday’s opening round of the National Spelling be, I had a little bit of a flash back to that experience. Thankfully, onomatopoeia wasn’t one of the words on the list, so I avoided a full on panic attack. (Up until this morning, I still couldn’t spell it.)

While Lea won’t be one of the competitors on tonight’s televised finals, she has still made Oxford proud. To come so close, just two points away from making the semi-finals, is truly an accomplishment when faced with such stiff competition and such a high stress environment. Nice work, Lea!

(For your reading enjoyment, this blog has been spell-checked. Twice.)