Ask the National Spelling Bee Champion

  1. What seems a lifetime ago.

Wow. I was the champ of my city’s school system back in the 1960’s, so I get an idea. What was your age, and, of course, what word won the title for you?

8th grader, 14, kamikaze. Word before that was enchilada. Big let down…hard words, hard words, hard words, then easy ones for the win. Huh?

Wow. The words were a lot easier back then. These days, I can’t spell a single word used in the contests.

What was the word that your final opponent got wrong?

So what made you want to memorize a bunch of words?

Speller 1.


What method did you use to learn the words?

I’m guessing glory. And chicks.

He missed renascent, which is slightly harder than mine but still fairly easy. I definitely knew how to spell it, and thus knew right away when he missed it.

I was just fairly good at an early age and it so happened my 4th grade teacher was a local coordinator of the spelling bees. To be honest, the motivation was more my mom’s than myself, but that was ok.

Basically what you did was gather up lists of words, either from the annual book of words they print and also words asked in old National Spelling Bees, and memorized as many as possible.

Nowadays I believe there is a black market cumulative list sold by two ladies not associated with Scripps. Also, this year they started vocabulary (asking definitions) which I think is ridiculous.


Oh man you should have seen the groupies at the after party. “We just loved how you spelled anorak right Geoff. That was so manly!”

Sorry, I meant how did you memorize the words?

Flash cards?

I did have flash cards I would look at but for the most part it was my mom asking and me spelling and told if I was right or wrong. If I missed a word, I would have to get it right 3 or 4 times before it would go back into the “gotten right” pile.

One thing we did that helped was we when practicing she would say the word, I would spell it, next. Could do a word every 10 seconds that way. If you fooled around trying to puzzle out every one you weren’t sure of, you just wouldn’t get much done.

What word during the competition was the most difficult to spell?

Can you still do it? Spell hippopotamus.

No, wait.

Never mind, I’ll be back later.

Can you use it in a sentence, please?

Did you watch the movie Akeelah and the Bee? What did you think about it as a dramatized spelling bee movie?

That sounds like an excellent idea. What’s the point of knowing how to spell a word if you have no idea what it means?