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Are spelling bees still relevant? Live spelling action March 29

By Feliks Banel

The annual Regional Spelling Bee for King and Snohomish Counties is coming up on Sunday, March 29, 1 p.m. at Town Hall Seattle and LIVE on the Seattle Channel (cable channel 21 in the city, HD 321 on Comcast and 721 on Wave) and via Thanks to dedicated volunteers and some great local sponsors, this Bee is now in its 17th year and has become a big local tradition.


You might ask, “Are spelling bees still relevant in this age of Spell Check and Autocorrect and LOL and OMG?” My answer would be an emphatic yes! I’ve been moderating this particular bee (my official title is “pronouncer”) since it was launched back in 1999, and I’ve been continually amazed and inspired by the level of competition displayed by the kids, and by the encouragement and sheer and very palpable joy demonstrated by the audience.

If you love letters and words and language, then you’ll love the spelling bee no matter what (I count myself in this category, naturally). But even if the kids were solving math problems or recalling dates of historic events, you’d be bowled over by their talent and determination, and proud that our region produces so many terrific kids.

If you attend or watch, you’ll find yourself cheering louder and louder for each successful speller as the complexity of the words increases, round by round, and as fewer and fewer spellers remain. Then, when it reaches the final rounds, as only two spellers remain, the action becomes even more (pardon the pun!) spellbinding. The audience at Town Hall Seattle (and those watching on TV or online) hangs on each and every letter. Sometimes we go several rounds with the final two spellers, but ultimately, there can be only one Spelling Bee Champion.

I think my favorite part of the day is before the Bee gets underway. That’s when I get to meet backstage with the 80 or so middle-schoolers to answer their questions and give them a preview of what will happen once we’re all standing before the audience. Backstage before the spelling starts, the history of that year’s Bee has yet to be written, and everyone is still a potential Spelling Bee Champion. We’re all at least a little bit nervous. Anyway, I know I’m nervous, even though all I have to do is pronounce a bunch of words that I’ve been able to look at and practice in advance. It’s at this point when I’m most inspired by the hard work of all the kids to get this level of competition. Yes, spelling bees are still relevant!

Get a taste of the action. Here’s the video from last year’s spelling bee at Town Hall.

Feliks Banel is a producer at Seattle PBS affiliate KCTS 9. He also produces and hosts the history series “This NOT Just In” for public radio, and he created the TV series “History In Motion: Seattle’s Past On Film” for the Seattle Channel.