This is my third consecutive year here as an audience member. In 2011, I just decided to return to the bee on a whim, after spending 14 years away. I was thrilled to return, and aside from being enveloped in excitement I had not known since 1997, I got to witness perhaps the best bee I've ever seen. Then last year, partly as a result of my experience, I decided to coach a speller from Denver, Frank Cahill. He ended up winning his district bee, took the Colorado bee handily, then earned 7th place in the nation - a tremendous accomplishment for a first-timer.
This year, although I did not coach the Colorado champion (minus Boulder; the awesome representative from Boulder County is also here, and for the second time!), I'm a big fan. She's very bright, confident, and poised, and I can't wait to see her moment in the spotlight. Instead, I ended up coaching a girl from just south of Washington, DC, who is cute as a button and can spew out words almost effortlessly after a few seconds of quiet deliberation. Of course, I'm firmly on this girl's team as well!
Aside from the obvious nostalgic tugs at the heartstrings and coaching, there's a huge reason why this is my third year (of many more, I anticipate) returning to the bee. Seldom do you see such a conglomeration of such talent, such dedication, and such evidence of hard work in one place at one time. You look at these kids, and you become excited for the future. These are some of the brightest stars today, just beginning to shine, just beginning to show their potential, and still innocent...not inured to the mundaneness of adult life yet, and (hopefully) not burnt out. It's tremendously inspiring, and it makes you want to continue to take charge of your life as well, to strive for excellence. And if that's trite...well, sometimes, from such platitudes arise great, great things.
Today was the last hurrah for all-out fun for the spellers. They attended a great barbecue filled with every sort of activity you could imagine, from face-painting to karaoke, from volleyball to doing the limbo. These are, after all, kids, and they deserve to have their fun. But tomorrow, all 281 of them shall endure a grueling 50-word test that includes - for the first time in history - a vocabulary component. Not only will it be important to spell words correctly, but it will be equally as important to know the definitions of words. (In fact, the written test is set up so that knowledge of vocabulary counts for more points than spelling. This inequality gets leveled over the course of the next two oral spelling rounds.)
Let the bee begin!