Coronavirus: National Spelling Bee canceled for the first time since 1945, shatters hopes of eighth graders

Earlier this year, the event was suspended pending rescheduling. The 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee is now scheduled for June 1-3, 2021, in National Harbor, Maryland


                            Coronavirus: National Spelling Bee canceled for the first time since 1945, shatters hopes of eighth graders
(Getty Images)

Like many other events that have been forced to cancel this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Scripps National Bee has canceled their national finals which were set to take place in May this year. Earlier this year, the event was suspended pending rescheduling. The 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee is scheduled for June 1-3, 2021, in National Harbor, Maryland.

On Tuesday, April 21, the Scripps National Bee announced its decision to cancel the event this year. The statement says, "More than 150 local sponsors successfully completed their regional programs by declaring champions before the coronavirus-related restrictions went into effect. The Bee will recognize those spellers in the coming months."

Students who have advanced beyond eighth grade are not allowed to compete and at the moment, the Bee has announced no change in its rules to accommodate for those who would be ineligible to participate next year. 

Paige Kimble, the executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee said in a statement, "Our thoughts immediately go to our spellers and their families. The students have dedicated time and effort to their passion for learning. They should be proud of all they have accomplished by winning spelling bees at the classroom, school, and regional level. Nevertheless, our first priority has to be the health and well-being of our spellers and their families and the hundreds of staff and spectators that come together for Bee Week."

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

She continued, "Our hearts go out to the spellers who won’t get their final shot at winning because of the pandemic and the difficult decisions it is prompting us to make. They are now part of a widely expanding group of children and adults who are missing out on opportunities due to the coronavirus."

The last time the National Spelling Bee canceled its national finals were between the years 1943 and 1945 during the second world war. 

For 14-year-old Navneeth Murali of Edison, New Jersey, 2020 would have been the final chance to compete and he would have been among the favorites to win. Navneeth told the Associated Press, "I'm totally shattered and devastated. Spelling has basically been my life for so many years. ... I put all my effort into the chance of winning Scripps, and this morning I found out it was all gone.”

Though Scripps has no plans in place for current eighth-graders who lost their final chance to compete, Navneeth's father, Murali Samu, and other parents said Scripps should find a way to allow them to compete, either by holding a smaller, invitation-only bee this year or by letting select ninth-graders return in 2021.

Kimble and other staff of the Scripps National Spelling Bee left open the possibility of holding a virtual competition, but feel it would be too difficult logistically and would not be true to the spirit of the competition. 

“The Scripps National Spelling Bee is an in-person live event, the same way that a basketball game is or a football game or a soccer game or a tennis match,” Kimble said. “It's just not something that can be effectively transferred to the virtual world.”

In 2019, the national finals ended in an unprecedented eight-way tie after Scripps ran out of words tough enough to challenge the best spellers. Simone Kaplan was the last speller eliminated before the so-called "octo-champs" were declared, and was looking forward to competing this year. “I didn't want ‘tettigoniid’ to be the end of the story,” Simone said, referring to the word she misspelled last year.

In the meantime, Simone, Navneeth and other top spellers will compete in an online bee conducted by SpellPundit on the same dates as the vacated Scripps bee. It offers a $2,500 cash prize to the winner — a pittance compared to the Scripps prize of $50,000 — but it may be the closest this year's eighth-graders get to a national title.

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