Our Daily Dread: Do we have to spell it out for you?


Paige Vasseur, a 13-year-old from Rio Norte Junior High in Valencia and sponsored by the Daily News, tries to stay focused during Round II of the 2009 National Spelling Bee on Wednesday.

Although we’ve struggled with this skewed idea year after year, and re-planted it again yesterday when the first signs of it started to penetrate the wire services (linked here), the more we sit unentertained by ESPN’s three-hour-plus coverage of the 82nd Scripps National Spelling Bee from Washington D.C., this morning, the easier it was to construct a list of the top five things that the all-sports network should not be allowed to air on any of its competitive channels, even though in some cases we’ve come to not just accept but embarassingly embrace:

1. Poker
2. The hot-dog eating championships
3. Bloated anchors who believe they’re bigger than whatever they are covering
4. The Little League World Series
5. The Spelling Bee

The first two are better suited for the Game Show Network and/or the Food Channel.
The last two should be, if Disney really wants it that badly, on a Disney Channel of core kids programming — not filtering their way through the other Mickey Mouse outlets of ESPN and then, in a two-hour live (East Coast) event, on ABC for the Spelling Bee finale tonight (8 to 10 p.m.), with Tom Bergeron putting his ‘Dancing With the Stars” and “America’s Funniest Home Movies” spin on it.

The third one doesn’t belong anywhere.

Trying to catch our daily “SportsCenter” update this morning, we were interrupted by a program that at one point was reduced to Erin Andews crouched down in a tight green dress, trying to extract an interview with a 9-year-old third grader named Sriram Hathwar from a Montessori School in Painted Post, N.Y., whose mouth was crammed with a cookie as he explained how he failed to nail the word “fodient” (he used an “a” instead of an “e”) — and was already adept as using all the cliche responses that a college football player would have told Andrews in the same situation if she was at an Ohio State-Michigan contest.

So, little Sriram (check notes to make sure the name is right), you have five more years of eligibility left, Andrews reminded him, as if she was talking to Beanie Wells. When does studying begin for next year?

“Well, maybe we’ll just, like, let it go for a week or so then we’ll start studying again,” Hathwar said.

“Maybe you deserve a little break,” Andrews said, completing ignoring the parent’s wishes and putting them on the spot now to give their poor kid a break — from you and everyone else trying to manipulate his schedule, thank you very much.

And maybe we all need a break from this on ESPN, which actually went past its three-hour window to complete the fifth round (that was once around for 41 contestants, then another for the 36 left from that).


Paige Vasseur (pictured here, from a link to her bio on the official Spelling Bee website), a 13-year-old eighth grader from Valencia’s Rio Norte Junior High (and sponsored by the Daily News), got her big break here today.

She left batting .500.

Scribbling on the back of her giant No. 12 card the letters to put together “brachylogy” in her first go-around (sounds like something that Dick Vitale tries to master each March), she was tripped up in her second appearance on “skeuomorph,” a noun that no one in their right mind would ever just drop into a sentence on the playground. She couldn’t decide if it started with an “s” or a “c.” She guessed incorrectly. Her mom was there to give her a hug.

(Paige’s bio page, by the way, mentions that she has two Roborovski hamsters named Fluffernutter and Miss Fluffykins, and she wants to become a scientist. So she’s got that going for her).

With all apologies to Akeelah and her Spelling Bee adventure on the silver screen, how fair is that to skew up a kid’s self esteem going into high school already seen as someone who couldn’t go the distance by her future classmates. Can Paige turn the page on this weekend that quickly and enjoy the rest of her summer, or will “skeuomorph” keep her up at night in a cold sweat? Thanks, ESPN, for helping her sleep better. And exposing her to boys who stumbled onto this when they were looking for more of Erin Andrews.

Chris McKendry reminded us at the top of the broadcast that 11 million kids entered this thing around the world months ago, and 293 made it these nationals. Included in those final 41 who made what Andrews called “the ESPN round” were names such as Kavya Shivashankar, Avvinash Radakrishnam, Aishwarya Pastapur, Viabhau Vivilala, Kennyi Aouda, Neetu Chandak, Siraj Sindhu, Tino Cusi Delamerced, Anamika Veeramani, Akshay Raghoram, Mouctika Palori, Aditya Chemudupaty and Serena Skye Laine-Lobsinger.

Wait, how did she get in?

Even analyst Paul Loeffler, a one-time contestant but now a grown man paid to explain everything, admitted that for most of these children, English is a second language. They had to study it more carefully — all those crazy rules that made no sense. So, in fact, they have an advantage in some respects than those who were taught in American schools (although many are home schooled or go to private institutions).

Do you see this becoming a national incident in need of U.N. intervention?


Oh, and among those who made it to the final rounds, we left out Sidharth Chand, a 13-year-old eighth grader from Detroit Country Day School.

Who has a mustache. He almost looks like a mini-Norman Chad on a poker show.

Connor Aberle, a 13-year-old seventh grader homeschooled in Portland, Ore., also has some fuzz under the nose.

Danny Almonte would be proud of them.

So, what kind of louche plan does ESPN have for allowing these potential people — some of them just a couple years removed from Huggies — under the TV spotlight on a channel that specializes in wins, losses and keeping score, and tell them they did a “great job!” even if they couldn’t shuffle through the alphabet quickly enough to complete words such as machtpolitik, cicatrize, bardiglio, strepitoso, myriacanthous, laeotryopus, myriarch or Beckmesser?

(Louche, by the way, was a word that Miss Chemudupaty, a 14-year-old from Staunton, Va., was forced to spell at one point. It means “devious, perverse, sinister”)

At one point, Veronica Penny, an 11-year-old from Ontario, Canada, put the palm of her hands up to her eyes and buried her face as she tried to extract the correct spelling of “clary” clearly in her mind.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Loeffler. “It helps her concentrate.”

“She’s not crying,” added McKendry.

No, we are. Just from watching these kids unnecessarily put through the ringer while we await ESPN’s next expose on “Outside The Lines” about pushy parents and their non-athletic kids who just want to stop reading a dictionary during their down time.

For the all-sports channel’s functionality, we did notice that it continued to run its revolving scroll across the bottom of the screen with any pertinent news that came through. Including, as one kid was trying to crank out the word “nescience,” that the A’s had put Nomar Garciaparra (calf) back on the DL.

Apparently, a non- slow news day. And it came after a commercial break where Sports Illustrated was pimping the fact that it has a subscription deal that can save you 69 percent, plus get the Swimsuit issue included, and before McKendry was promoting the network’s coverage Friday of the Lakers-Nuggets Game 6, as “the Lakers try to close it out, but it won’t be easy.”

Just as uneasy as watching a pre-teen asking the judge to use “tonsorial” in a sentence and getting: “Rob wore a baseball cap for two weeks following his tonsorial disaster.” (It has nothing to do with getting his tonsils ripped out, but having a bad barber … keep that in mind the next time you see Tiki Barber on the “Today” show).


Another spry youngin’, 13-year-old eighth grader Miguel Gatmaytan, was asked to figure out how to spell “mancala.”

Which is, by definition, “Any of the various games from Africa or southern Asia that involve competition between two players in the distribution of pieces (as beans or pebbles) into rows of holes or pockets (as on a board), under rules that permit accumulation of pieces by capture.” In a sentence: “There are 200 versions of mancala played around the world.”

There’s another thing that we should never have to see on ESPN: The Mancala World Series. With Chris Berman hosting.

Comment here or at thomas.hoffarth@dailynews.com.

More reading: Linda Holmes’ “Monkey See” piece on National Public Radio’s site (linked here), where she calls this event an “oddly addictive spectacle.” She writes: “You’re not seeing kids demonstrate that they spell well in real life as much as you are seeing them perform an advanced academic trick. … There aren’t a lot of televised triumphs available for kids who are very, very bright and unusual, and that’s part of what makes the Bee mesmerizing. Television will show you lots of kids who are attractive and conventionally cute, and from time to time, it will show you the ones who are good at sports. But very, very bright and unusual?”

Also: This Q-and-A by Time magazine with Jacques Bailly on winning the event as a 14-year-old in 1980 and now acting as the judge who prounces the words and banters with the contestants as they try to quiz him for more information (as well as stall for time) (linked here).


AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
That’s Tim Ruiter — common spelling — a 12-year-old from Centreville, Va., after spelling his word correctly in round six this morning of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, bringing him to tonight’s finals.

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