Rick Bentley

Loeffler headed to Washington, D.C., for spelling bee finals

Paul Loeffler, the voice of the Fresno State football team and host of the locally produced “Hometown Heroes,” is in suburban Washington, D.C., this week. This is his 10th year as part of the national ESPN broadcast team for the “Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals.”

“Hard to believe it’s been that long. There are a few new wrinkles this year, including the Buzzworthy app, and the Spelling Bee Podcast they have me hosting,” Loeffler says just before traveling east. You can see his podcast at soundcloud.com/spellingbee or @SpellingBeePod on Twitter.

The semifinals of the 88th edition of the spelling competition will air live on ESPN2 starting at 7 a.m. Thursday, May 28. The finals are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on ESPN.

This year’s bee features 285 champion spellers, ages 9-15, who qualified for the national competition by winning locally sponsored spelling contests in their respective communities. They represent all 50 U.S. states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe; also, the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

Loeffler points out that while Tulare County has a representative at the national event, there is no one from Fresno County because no one sponsors a qualifying bee.

“This is really a shame because the California State Spelling Bee champion this year is a fourth-grader from Fresno. It would be great to start a regional bee next year to give her a chance to compete for the national title,” Loeffler says.

Not only is Loeffler a veteran of the annual broadcast, but he represented the Merced Sun-Star in the 1990 Scripps National Spelling Bee, finishing among the top 13 spellers.

“It seems like the Bee gets better every year. It’s a privilege to try to take the viewer inside the speller’s brain and talk about what some of the challenges might be. I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of amazing people over the years in Washington, and Chris McKendry and Kaylee Hartung are two of the best,” Loeffler says. “The spellers are getting smarter and harder to stump.

“The way they use technology to prepare as exponentially increased their word base. I expect to be impressed and amazed again by their intelligence and performance under pressure,” he says.

Throughout the competition, ESPN3 and WatchESPN will feature a second multiple-choice “Play-Along” version that gives fans a one-in-three chance to pick the correct spelling.

Just for the record, the word Loeffler missed in 1990 was “stachyose.” It’s a sugar derived from the Chinese artichoke.