From first grade through my sophomore year, I attended schools in Montrose, Colorado. Two things they got right were phonics and spelling, and they also made a pretty good reader out of me. I wanted to read, and the teachers encouraged reading skills.
At some point our classes started having spelling bees to drill us on correct spelling—I think it was in fourth grade. I liked them and was always one of the better spellers in my class, sometimes even the top speller.
But it was in junior high that I had a chance to become a “spelling star”.
We had a city-wide spelling competition in the form of a spelling bee, and the final spelling bee for the grand championship was broadcast live on the local radio station— KUBC-AM. All through our junior high, good spellers were practicing and drilling on how to spell the difficult words we might encounter. Now, I was a little shy back then and not sure I wanted to take spelling to that level, but I had a chance to practice with the cutest girl in junior high, Kitty Sue, and that made it worth doing—I wasn’t that shy, and she was pretty nice.
Well, we practiced and along came the big day and they bussed us to the radio station and about 30 students were in that studio getting our chance to spell the words that were presented to us.
To my surprise, I wound up one of the last two competing spellers, but the other kid was Neal, unquestionably the most intelligent seventh grader in the entire universe. And it was me versus him. Well, they gave us word after word, and neither one of us had a misspelling. I was getting pretty nervous. Was I actually going to win the trophy, and the chance to represent Montrose in further competition?
I needn’t have been nervous. Along came the word that got me: “Cemetery.”
So I answered: “Cemetery— C-E-M-A-T-AR Y—Cemetery.” And the buzzer sounded. I had misspelled a word. And Neal got it right. He got a trophy and I got a lousy second place ribbon.
The agony of defeat. I don’t think Kitty Sue ever spoke to me again and I just felt bad being in second place. But I have never misspelled “Cemetery” again.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.