I’m a good speller.
Heck, probably a great speller.
But after stumbling to a somewhat-disappointing 4th-place finish in the districtwide finals as a first grader (I flubbed “lyric,” a word I’d simply never heard before. I think I misplaced the “i” and threw in a “k”), I never competed in a schoolwide spelling bee again.
That’s still weird to me, as I’m certain I was — after, you know, learning what a lyric is — a better speller than almost every other student in my grade. Whereas numbers, basketball or, well, detentions were the forté of some kids in school, my strength was words.
Now, letters, on the other hand, well they belonged strictly to my childhood buddy Thoufiq Kutty.
Along with his brothers Malik and Rafiq before him, Thoufiq — now an attorney and alumnus of Northwestern University and University of Chicago — was part of a spelling dynasty at Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center during the 1980s.
Back then, the Kuttys did one thing: They won spelling bees.
And by the time Thoufiq rolled into junior high in 1988, it was simply expected that he would sweep the 6th, 7th and 8th grade bees over the next three years.
Just as his brothers had before him.
Really, I don’t know he had any other choice.
The pressure was on.
And I certainly didn’t want to add to it.
So, each spring during a schoolwide assembly, I’d sit up in the gymnasium balcony, twiddling my thumbs and spelling to myself while watching other classmates drop like flies during the bee, misspelling an “allusion” here or a “conscience” there.
And every year, at bee’s end, Thoufiq stood alone. Victorious.
And, I’m certain, relieved.
Now, it’s not that I would have surely beaten Thoufiq (in fact, it’s unlikely I would have), but never once did I even enter our school’s spelling bee during junior high.
I believe I may have claimed stage fright as my excuse, and perhaps that did have something to do with it. But I think even more of a reason for ducking the bee was I feared I’d actually win the thing.
And beat my buddy, snapping his family’s cherished streak.
I didn’t even want to try.
In any case, the only reason why I’m sharing this little tale with you today is to display the strong respect that I have for spelling.
That said, however, I still had to laugh this morning when I read a “BREAKING NEWS” e-mail alert sent by my hometown newspaper, the Kankakee Daily Journal (where I have friends, and once interviewed for an editor job).
Because, while spelling bees are great and all, I’m still not sure they’re quite this buzzworthy … 🙂
Sent: Thursday, May 29, 2008 8:33 AM
Subject: ***BREAKING NEWS FROM THE DAILY JOURNAL ONLINE***
Ajay Chatrath, an eighth-grader at Grace Baptist Academy in Kankakee, correctly spelled his first word this morning in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.More on this story will be posted on www.daily-journal.com as details are available.