Michael stood up straight,faced the judges,and repeated the word into the microphone.
Whew. Here it goes. Sigh. Deep breath.
Take your time,take your time.
Come on,think. You can do this. Don’t rush.
Oh God,please let this be right.
Please,no bell, please,no bell…
It was correct.
“Yes! Yes! He did it,” cried Betty Dechert Tuesday night when her grandson,Michael Douglas Dechert,spelled sunglo,a kind of Chinese tea,correctly,even after showing some uncertainty about the word. Michael,from Moline,Ill.,is speller No.177 in the 74th annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Washington,D.C.
This year’s competition brings 248 champion spellers from around the nation and Hawaii,Guam,U.S. Virgin Islands,Puerto Rico,Jamaica,Bahamas,American Somoa,and Mexico to compete for the national title.
Parents and relatives gathered at the bee to support their superstar spellers. Michael Dechert brought along his cheering squad,featuring his grandmother and great-aunt as captain and co-captain. They sat on the edge of their seats holding their breath as Michael slowly pronounced each letter.
“We were holding hands,” Betty Dechert,Michael’s grandmother,said. “We wanted to see him advance through the first round.”
Some parents say as the pressure on the child builds,so does pressure on the parents. Parents and family members play a critical role in their children’s success. They have helped their child study for months,some hours a day,to make it through the state competitions and prepare for this one.
Susan Brynteson,of Delaware,Michael’s great-aunt,said he studied tremendously for the competition. “We are so very proud of him,” she said. “We decorated the hotel room with black and yellow balloons,the colors of the spelling bee. If you stand in the lobby,you can see the balloons in the window.”
The kids aren’t the only ones with nerves shooting through the roof. In fact,many of the parents confessed they were more nervous than their children.
“I held my breath and prayed that he said the correct letter,” Uyen Le,mother and coach of Maurice Nguyen,of Tampa,Fla.,who tied for 32nd place in last year’s competition. “Sometimes he slips and means to say a certain letter,but says the wrong one.”
Jim Burdeski,father of Jamie Burdeski,speller No.186 of Fisher,Ind.,said that he is definitely more nervous than his daughter. In his hands he holds a stuffed dog with round,floppy ears and sad,brown eyes. The dog was given to Jamie for good luck by a friend,and Burdeski grips the animal in hope.
In the meantime,Jamie is on stage wearing her one of her favorite dresses for the occasion. “She said she’d wear her good dress today because she may not get to wear it tomorrow,” Jackie Sundboom,her mother,said. Jackie offered her daughter emergency advice for the competition: “When in doubt,look for similar words with the same roots and ask for the country of derivation.”
The parents’ glee and heart-warming relief showed with every correct spelling. The Won family sat with their eyes closed and heads bowed as Matthew Won,speller No.168 of Honolulu,Hawaii,spelled repechage. They opened their eyes,smiled and jumped in their seats when he was correct.
“We were praying that God would let him remember the word and remain calm,” Reed Won,his father,said.
Huge smiles and waving hands in the air came from Dwight and Marva Thomas,parents of Daniel James Thomas,speller No. 199 of Kingston,Jamaica,when he spelled berylloid correctly.
“He has worked so hard. It’s especially challenging because he has to change from the Oxford Dictionary to studying the Merriam-Webster,” Marva Thomas said.
As Daniel advances into the next round,his parents are filled with pride. “We look forward to great things tomorrow,” Dwight Thomas said.
Dechert,Nguyen,Won,and Thomas will take the stage for the final round Thursday morning.
Their parents’ support and encouragement is needed now more than ever. When spellers are is stung by defeat,parents are the ones present for the aftermath. They do the final consoling. And for the one lucky winner,they must help their child decide what to do with the prize money – $10,000.