IID representative recounts humbling by spelling bee

April 28, 2002

The following is the third in a series of columns leading up to the Literacy Volunteers of America 14th annual Spelling Bee for Literacy on May 2.

By RICK JOHNSON, Special to this newspaper

Last year I entered the Literacy Volunteers of America spelling bee representing the Imperial Irrigation District feeling pretty confident.

After all, I received a degree in literature, I write articles and I have even taught English in our public school system.

Sure, I received the study guide sponsored by the Birmingham Post Herald. In fact, it fit so nicely in my folder that that's where it remained. My first mistake came with my first word:

· im-pu-dence (adv.) — showing lack of respect

Although our team spelled the word correctly, we only received one point. It seems this word came from the "beginning" list. The following two teams were awarded three points each for spelling poin-set-ti-a and am-e-thyst. Obviously, the other teams were getting the "easy" words. So our team, consisting of myself, one of our foremen and a sophomore at Brawley Union High School, decided that we would ask for more "challenging" words. My second mistake came with our second word:


· in-scru-ta-ble (adj.) — baffling or impossible to understand

We misspelled the word terribly. I claimed, due to my age I did not hear the word clearly. The foreman claimed there was no such word. Our teen-ager had the correct spelling, but we didn't listen to him. Then we faced our third word:

· ec-lec-tic (adj). — choosing or accepting from various sources

Between the three of us, we spelled it correctly. But we were losing badly. The other teams were getting three point words and spelling them correctly. As a team, we debated our strategy. Frustration set in, which led to some self-humiliation. But we decided to go on with the three- pointers. The announcer must have noticed our ensuing discussion, which led to another mistake, which, of course, segued into our fourth word:

· per-si-flage (n.) — banter

Once again we misspelled the word horribly — with the same lousy excuses. The kid wasn't even close. We found ourselves in last place. Personally, I didn't think we had a chance of winning the spelling bee, but I sure didn't want to finish in last place. We all felt a bit disgraced and humiliated.

Our only chance was to get the last word. It had to be a three-pointer. Plus, one other team — made up of attorneys — had to get their word wrong. They did. As a result they were ahead of us by a mere two points. We could leap out of last place if we were to get our last word. It was a three-point word. We spelled it correctly. No mistakes this time. We were ready for our fifth word:

Web-li-og-ra-phy (n). — listing of Web addresses

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