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Rick’s Cafe: Hey, Scripps National Spelling Bee, leave those kids alone

May 31, 2012, 1:55 PM EDT

Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee Held In Washington, DC Getty Images

We were all bummed when 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison was ousted from the Scripps National Spelling Bee last night. But the Lake View, VA, resident, the youngest competitor in the event’s history, doesn’t seem too broken up about it. In fact, Lori Anne appears quite happy to be free of the stressful, “really boring, really boring” atmosphere of the Washington D.C. event.

The word that tripped her up was “ingluvies” — a large, hairy invertebrate of the English language once thought to be extinct in the wild. Quite a handful for a six-year-old, but she almost got it. Lori Anne spelled it with an “e” instead of an “i”, and that was enough to knock her out of round 3.

Afterward at a press conference (yes, a press conference) she claimed that she actually knew the word — but just wasn’t into the spelling thing at that moment. As she told the Huffington Post:

“I was really disappointed that I misspelled the word. I knew the word,” Lori Anne said Thursday. “It was just too bad that I misspelled the word.”

Waiting for her turn to spell wasn’t so much fun. She hadn’t gotten enough sleep and came close to nodding off, and the hour-and-a-half wait “seemed like two millennia,” she said.

“I was just stressed. It was a really, really long wait,” Lori Anne said. “Overall, it was just boring. Really boring! Really boring!”

It should be noted that even though Lori Anne is quite possibly a genius (she’s home schooled because she’s too smart for private school), she is still, in fact, six. And that comes with the attendant character traits: most relevant of all, knowing an overblown spectacle when she sees one.

source:  Lori Anne was more interested in high-fiving the other contestants than she was in actually spelling words for Samantha Steele. (The ESPN analyst was on hand because part of the semifinals and all of Friday’s finals are being shown on that network once again. This was once Erin Andrews’ territory, but I guess she outgrew it.) The rest of the time the youngster spent fidgeting in her chair and wishing she was someplace else. As I often do. But Lori Anne has an excuse — she’s a kid.

However, as Americans we’re obsessed with competition: and determining who’s the best at something means going all the way to the top. It’s not enough to hold local, county-wide spelling bees and give trophies to thousands of kids. We must determine who is the Best Speller in All The Land (medieval trumpets here), and that means a national tournament, and national TV. Lori Anne wasn’t the only kid whose nerves were stretched like a rubber band. Remember the kid who actually fainted on stage at the Scripps Spelling Bee a couple of years back?

Oh, and this just in: ESPN misspelled the word “South” in their spelling bee chyron graphic just a little while ago. So because you misspelled a word, ESPN, we’re sorry to say that you are eliminated from the competition. Fox, you may broadcast Friday’s finals.

Look, I don’t make the rules.

Creating a national tournament and putting kids on TV seems a little like child abuse, which reminds me, the Little League World Series will be here in a couple of months. Once again ESPN will beckon, and people will watch, because we love seeing kids stressed to the breaking point. You can see more tears in one Little League World Series game than in a large metropolitan hospital nursery. But it’s OK, because we must find out who is best and put it on TV … even if the participants are not tall enough to go on many carnival rides.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before ESPN begins televising youth chess tournaments: then the movie Searching For Bobby Fisher would have turned out much differently. I suppose the question is, are we raising a generation of Jonathan Poes (the arrogant chess champion kid in the film), or Josh Waitzkins (the likeable kid who offers him a tie in the championship match).

Because of all this pressure brought on by being on the national stage, I fear it’s the former. Trick or treat.

Perhaps Lori Anne Madison had had her fill, and simply tipped over the board. Maybe she wanted out of the TV spotlight and to get back to catching frogs and watching Masterpiece Mysteries. “Ingluvies?” she might have asked. “You cretins, I could spell that standing on my head, and often have. But today I do not feel like performing for your amusement. Now if you’ll excuse me, these Angry Birds aren’t going to launch themselves.”

***
Rick’s Cafe Americain appears on Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com. Twitter: @Rickchand.

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