The Scripps National Spelling Bee has a remarkable pull over those who have made it to the national stage. Year after year, they keep coming back.
Dozens of former spellers will be scattered throughout the live audience when the preliminary rounds of the bee begin Wednesday. Others take on official roles in the competition. The most famous ex-spellers are Jacques Bailly, the pronouncer and public face of the bee; and Paige Kimble, the bee’s executive director. They won in back-to-back years: Bailly in 1980, Kimble in 1981.
The Loeffler family from Los Banos contributes two spelling bee alumni: Corrie Loeffler, a three-time national bee participant, is also part of Scripps’ full-time bee staff; her brother, ex-speller and voice of Fresno State athletics Paul Loeffler, will commentate on ESPN’s telecast for the 11th consecutive year.
Former champions Blake Giddens and George Thampy work as bee judges. And several former spellers will be working for the bee as part of Scripps’ “college crew.”
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The bee also is bringing back last year’s co-champions, Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, to present the trophies during its first-ever opening ceremonies.
Some former spellers say they remain involved with the bee because it had such a profound influence over their lives.
Amy Goldstein, a copy editor for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com, will be covering the bee for the second straight year. She finished fourth in the 1998 bee. At the time, she wrote in her biography that she wanted to design roller coasters. After the bee, she realized she was more interested in becoming a journalist or linguist.
Even before her job brought her back to the bee, Goldstein attended several times as a spectator.
“What brings me back? I love the camaraderie. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends. It’s something that I credit with helping me find a career, helping guide me,” Goldstein said. “It was one of the happiest weeks of my life, so why not come back? Why not relive that exciting atmosphere?”
Spellers pour their heart and soul into the bee – some for as many as five or six years. But once they reach ninth grade or turn 16, it’s over, and it can leave a void.
“It’s certainly very abrupt. There’s also a feeling of relief, but that’s rather transitory,” said Rob Palmisano, a student at Duke who will be part of this year’s college crew. “You’re in this period of deep reflection. Did I study enough? Did I get the most out of this that I wanted to get out of it?”
The Fresno Bee contributed to this report
Two central San Joaquin Valley students are in the Scripps National Spelling Bee field of 285:
Ananya Vinay, 11, a fifth-grader at Clovis Unified’s Fugman Elementary in north Fresno. She is sponsored by The Fresno Bee.
Sameera Hussain, 12, a seventh-grader at Sequoia Middle School in Porterville, is back for the second straight year. She is sponsored by the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register.
Schedule (all events at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.)
Tuesday: Preliminaries Test, 5:30-6:30 a.m. PDT
Wednesday: Preliminaries Round 2, 5-8:45 a.m. PDT; Preliminaries Round 3, 10:15 a.m.-1:45 p.m. PDT
Thursday: Finals begin at 7 a.m. PDT and continue at 5 p.m. PDT