ON FIRST GLANCE: Well, that was worth waiting for! I had a chance to catch the last few minutes of the Bee, with Tia, Sameer, and Sidarth on stage. What follows are some random thoughts, from my perspective as a former contestant.
My man Sidarth!: Of the three, I identified the most with Sidarth. Like him, I was a first-time speller; like him, I suddenly found myself with a chance to win it; like him, I spelled out on a word (plutogoguery) that, had I spent just a *tiny* bit more time pondering it, I might have spelled correctly (or not -- one never knows these things).
I once had the chance to spend some time with a noted basketball player. I asked him what it was like when he got "in the zone". His reply was that the hoop and the ball became gigantic and time slowed to a crawl. I knew what he was talking about, because the same thing has happened to me on occasion -- and it happened that spring when I was spelling.
Sidarth was in the same zone that I inhabited, even after he spelled out. I could tell; he seemed slightly dazed and unsure of what he should do next. I'm sure he'll knock himself a bit once the reality of it all sinks in -- I did the same thing. He strikes me, though, as someone who'll be quite all right.
Tia, Tia, Tia: I hear where people are coming from with Tia. You know what, though? If I had to pick someone other than Sidarth to win, Tia was the one. So what if she struck some of us as rather Tracy Flick-like? To win in something like this (especially now that it's becoming more of a world championship), you need to exert maximum effort -- even if you're in the zone. With Tia in the competition, I felt that was made certain. You could see it in her eyes -- this title was hers, and the only way anyone was going to win it was to take it away from her.
That's the kind of drive and self-possession you see in a champion. Shonda compared her to Kobe, and I totally agree. I've seen that look in his eyes, I've seen it in Tiger's eyes, I've seen it in Barack Obama's eyes; really, I've seen it in anyone who's truly excellent at what they do.
Mark it: we'll hear from Tia Thomas yet.
World Spelling Bee: Look, let's be frank. At this point, it's not a national spelling championship; it's increasingly becoming a world championship. That's a good thing!
Spirit and letter of the rules: Earlier, Adam (I think it was him) mentioned Jake Smith of Colorado, and how his dad had moved with him to Boulder in order to compete again at the Bee in his final year.
Now, I like Jake. I had a chance to meet him last year, and I chatted with him. Nice kid. Here's the thing: rules for the Rocky Mountain News bee say that there can't be repeat representatives. I'm not sure if it's a policy or an actual rule, but it's a prohibition of some weight.
Jake's folks thought that was silly, so they moved Jake to Boulder in order to be able to compete again. As fate has it, Jake's brother won the Rocky bee, so they became the first brothers to compete in the same Bee.
Again, nothing against Jake or his brother (who's also a sweet kid). I'm sure they wanted to compete as well. But even in my brief time knowing them, I got the feeling that if they didn't win, they'd be cool. The parents, not so much. Jake asked me about the stuff they got to do; the parents asked me about how to win the Bee. I told them to relax and enjoy the ride. Somehow, I don't know that they did.
In the end, these are kids we're talking about. One of the few changes that I disagree with the Bee staff about (not that my opinion matters a whit more than others) is the decision to let family members on stage during the championship rounds.
The stage belongs to the kids. Not the parents -- the kids. This is their time to shine on stage, and it should stay that way. I'd much prefer it if the families were seated off-stage; maybe in a different section, if you want, but off-stage.
Okay, that's it. Thanks to the vicissitudes of our political nominating process, I spent most of the week traveling from one end of the country to the other. Unfortunately, that meant I wasn't able to contribute as much as I wanted to. I look forward -- with the permission of our kind friends here -- to doing more next year.
I want to thank all of you here for having me, however briefly. Mazeltov to all the spellers this year.
And with that, it's time for me to go.