In an age where people have spell check and autocorrect as crutches, who still is taking the time to really know how to spell?
Turns out, at least 46 kids across four counties — Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington and Yamhill — were up to the task as they competed in the 14th annual Portland Tribune/Comcast Regional Spelling Bee on Saturday, March 18.
Children in fourth through eighth grade competed at the event held at Hollywood Theatre. There were several rounds of elimination, when students would, to their disappointment, which frequently showed in their face, hear that pesky bell letting them know they spelled a word like "Dracula" or "rehearse" incorrectly.
Coming out on top of the day's brain game was Anna-Livia Regan, 14, who incidentally was also contestant No. 1. From Southwest Portland, she attends ACCESS Academy, an alternative accelerated program for gifted students. Her parents are both teachers, her mother at Lewis & Clark College and father at Portland State University. She will advance to the famous Scripps National Spelling Bee, all expenses paid, in Washington, D.C. The 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee will be held during "Bee Week," May 28 through June 3. Finals are broadcast on ESPN.
Sporting blue streaks in her hair and a fedora, Regan frequently made the audience laugh through her quirky demeanor and the inadvertently humorous way she would ask the bee's host, Oregon Public Broadcasting's Dave Miller, to repeat a word or use it in a sentence.
Humbled by the win (her winning word was "subcutaneous," an adjective meaning situated or occurring beneath the skin), Regan also called it nerve-wracking.
How did she manage to figure it out despite the nerves? "I just kind of see the word in my head ... and it just comes out of my mouth," she said.
She used her hands to symbol out the word "oncology" and had the most trouble with the word "skookum," an adjective meaning marked by excellent quality, or first rate.
"I guess I just spelled it right, magically," Regan said. "I studied all the word lists because I really enjoy spelling, so it was just kind of like a game. I just did it in all the free time I had."
Outside of spelling, she enjoys playing Skyrim and the Sims.
In a first for the Tribune spelling bee, there was a tie-breaker round for a runner-up, which was won by Padmini Bhagavatula, 14, from Beaverton's Stoller Middle School.
Why have the bee?
Started 14 years ago by Lake Oswego Review advertising representative Jill Weisensee, the regional spelling bee was inspired in part by the documentary called "Spellbound." The movie, released in 2003, follows eight contestants sponsored by their hometown newspapers who travel with their families to Washington, D.C., for the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
"I saw it in a movie theater, here [at Hollywood Theatre] I think, and I never knew about the national bee. This is before the national bee was on televisions," said Weisensee. "So I just started researching it and found out that a newspaper group had to sponsor it."
Scripps National Spelling Bee first began in 1925 when nine newspapers joined together to host a bee. The first was organized by The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.
There are hundreds of sponsors in the nation, mostly newspapers, that host a regional spelling bee, but the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group is the only newspaper and company in Oregon still sending students to the Scripps spelling bee. The last was the Bend Bulletin, which no longer does it.
Weisensee thinks it's because of tight budgets and cutbacks at newspapers. "It is an investment," she said. "We pay airfare, food, and a hotel for a week for two people in Washington, D.C."
But, to Pamplin Media Group, it's a worthwhile one. "Originally we did it because no one else was doing it. We've learned over the years that people really appreciate it," said Mark Garber, president of the Pamplin Media Group. "The kids are excited to have the opportunity to participate, and it fits in with our mission, which is to increase literacy and support education programs."
While the region covers four counties, Yamhill added this year, there aren't many Portland Public Schools participating in the Scripps program. A school must host a written spelling bee and then the winner of that is sent to the regional bee. Realizing that educators already faced a lot of pressure, organizers hope schools know that teachers don't necessarily have to lead it, that it could be someone else, such as a parent or librarian.
"We are open to growing, we just need the sponsor support," said Weisensee.
She believes a spelling bee offers an opportunity for a competition for those uninterested sports.
But going even beyond that, there are other benefits to being a strong speller.
"I think that in this day of digital and texting and everything else, I think it's good to remind kids that spelling is important. I know as a hiring manager, I would notice when resumes would come to me and there'd be misspellings," Weisensee said.