“Pay to Play” the National Spelling Bee


Guest Writer By Susan Monday, Delaware 105.9It’s that time of year where stellar spellers throughout the country compete in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, a tradition since 1925.

How do the spellers get there? By winning their local spelling contest and then moving up the ladder until they win a regional contest. They are then invited to compete in the national event held in Washington, DC.

That’s how twelve-year old Austin Loar of Salisbury Middle School in Maryland did it. Contestant number 138 in this year’s Scripps contest beat out 23 other candidates in the Maryland Eastern Shore Spelling Bee in March.

But in 2018, some competitors traveled a different route to get to the bee. For the first time “losers” were allowed to compete in the national contest.
Can you spell M-O-N-E-Y?

Last year, a fourteen-year old who had lost at a regional contest paid his way into the national contest. His parents paid a $750 entry fee to open the spelling bee door for their son, and guess what, he ended up winning the competition.

So many regional spellers, wanting a second chance, paid to play in 2018 that Scripps upped the entry fee in 2019 to $1500.

Who knew there were that many committed spellers in this country?
Scripps calls the “pay to play” option “RSVBee,” which has almost doubled the number of spelling contestants to more than 500.

This year’s contest will have more paying customers than spellers who got there the traditional way.
As a former English teacher, I am particularly fond of good spellers, but something about the “RSVBee” option bugs me.

It smacks of the recent college admissions scandal that brought down some very well-to-do people who paid big bucks to get their kids into elite colleges in this country. The message from that story? A college education can be bought. No surprise there, but the lengths the “fixer” Rick Singer went to get these less-than-qualified students into places like Princeton, Yale, and USC were unconscionable. Doctoring answers on the SATs and portraying the students as athletes were just two of the many tactics Singer used.

Is the “RSVBee” program the same thing? Kind of, but not exactly.
What’s wrong with a kid losing a regional spelling contest? Isn’t there a life lesson to be learned there?

The Scripps Bee says the “RSVBee” option is all about making the competition inclusive because some students have “geographic inequities.” I’m not even sure I know what that means.
Remember all those spelling words you memorized as a kid, taking the weekly spelling test in school, and jumping for joy when you scored a “100”? It felt good, right? Maybe you even entered the spelling bee at your school.

Fast forward to 2019, when all your parents have to do is pay your way into the spelling bee.
I wonder what Austin Loar would have to say about that?

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