A week and four days ago, 60 Second Docs came out with a (as might be expected, one minute long) video about me. The video was excellent and overall accurate--it covered my coaching, competition experience, and some of my other work in assisting with the running of bees. As expected, it got a mix of responses; some were very positive, some very negative. By now, I have forgotten most of the comments, positive or negative, but one of them still sticks out in my mind: "I would like to know where, especially in this modern digital world, a spelling bee is important."
The answer: it is important everywhere. There is not a day that goes by where I don't encounter a situation where I use something that I learned from the bee and my studies. In my classes at school, I can understand concepts more easily because I studied the word for the concept in spelling. It helps me in learning languages--I can recognize Latin and Greek roots that I've learned in spelling in words that I'm learning for French and Spanish. I don't get as stressed when I have a busy schedule because I know that I have handled an even fuller schedule when I was studying for the bee, and my time management skills were improved. Believe it or not, bee experience helped me to not be as perfectionist; because of the bee, I know that success isn't necessarily defined by being the best--it's defined by giving it your all, pushing your limits, and being better than you were before.
However, even if I hadn't learned a thing from the bee, I would still be glad that I did it. Ultimately, for most spellers, the bee is not about the prize money, the work ethic, or any of the "lessons." The bee is about the words, how so many intricacies and nuances can be put together with 26 letters. The bee is about the countless hours spent--usually by choice--getting lost in the paths that words took to come to be how they are today. More than anything, the bee is about the sheer thrill. When you get up to the microphone, suddenly you forget everything that came before this moment and everything that might be coming after. Somewhere in your brain, you know that millions of people are watching, so you're nervous, but in the moment you forget why. For the two minutes you have to piece your word together, it's just you, the judges, the letters, and the lights. Everything else falls away, time distorts itself, and you live a dozen lifetimes in a single second. At its core, that's what the bee is about. So of course spelling is important and the bee is important, but it wouldn't matter if it wasn't. That's just not what it's about.