New Thing #152: A Spelling Bee Winner From Queens

Thursday night my Twitter lit up with Queens pride. The Mets had beaten the Yankees for the fourth game in a row, and the Scripps National Spelling Bee winner was a boy from Queens.

I didn't know which news to celebrate first.

The former is a big deal to me - anytime the Mets get the better of the Yankees it's a big deal for us Mets fans.

The latter - well, it's a little less universal, but I had cause to celebrate:

I once knew a boy from Queens who was good at spelling....

My wife LOVES to poke fun at me for this.

As a matter of fact, she did so in a very public way 7 (!) years ago now, when she took over my sports blog for a few days while I was on a school camping trip. (It's entertaining stuff - after you click the link above you can read the May 30 and 31st entries here.)

I was a 4-time spelling bee winner at my elementary and junior high schools - I won in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.

Winning my school spelling bee advanced me to the District Spelling Bee - District 30, for those of you scoring at home. Each year, though, that was the end of my journey - I don't even know if there was a regional bee after that, or straight to the state spelling bee.

To be honest, I never really got close to finding out.

One year I was knocked out on 'whimsical' - I think I didn't put in the 'h'. Another year - and if you read the link to my wife's writing, you know this - it was 'terrarium'. I tell my students every year that they're lucky to be exposed to a bit of Latin and Greek as they study languages, because had I even thought to ask about language of origin on 'terrarium' I still wouldn't have realized when I was a kid the Latin 'terra' root rather than thinking it was spelled like 'pterodactyl' (which I think is a Greek root).

It's made worse when I remember shortly after being eliminated seeing one of the next kids get to spell 'apron'.

One of the best moments of my childhood was spelling 'facsimile' correctly to win the PS2 Spelling Bee. My teacher was in awe - she didn't think I even knew the word. I did, because a worksheet we had done that week had the word featured on it. It was quite a coincidence.

Anyway -  I tell you this because the winner of the National Spelling Bee this year followed a similar path as yours truly.

True, he went to Middle School 74 in Bayside rather than PS2 or JHS 141 in Jackson Heights. And yes, he's Indian-American, just like the past 5 winners of the National Spelling Bee. And you're right, he won the earlier rounds whereas I did not.

But we were both Daily News competitors (the New York Daily News sponsors the New York bees, and then sponsors the New York winner in the national competition). And I feel like he completed the journey I never could.

Congratulations to Arvind Mahankali for winning the Bee. He's taking some heat for not celebrating after he won. I don't blame him - I don't know what I would have done if I won at that age. Which I didn't.

Which leads to another important difference between me and Arvind. He's 'retiring' from spelling now. What's he doing next? Studying physics all day. I just never had that kind of academic discipline.

But I sure could spell 'discipline'.

Here's a look at his winning word: