At the beginning of each year, there are hundreds of hopefuls, all vying for that same spot. Over the long autumn months, those are dwindled down to the best of the best. They are the ones who join the other thirty-some competitors in the tournament that will decide who will be the one: the champion. There is definitely an element of luck involved. Who will stay healthy? Who has the skills for the long haul, not just the sprint to the finish. Over the years, I have seen many, but this one was special. I had a rooting interest.
Not the Super Bowl. The Oakland Unified School District Spelling Bee. This one was different because my son was one of the students on the stage when it came time to weed out the pretenders from the contenders. I had very mixed feelings, sitting in the audience, watching him on the stage. I wanted him to succeed primarily because of all the times I had watched and judges spelling bees at my elementary school. All that pressure. All those tears. I believe he was fortunate because at his middle school, the initial rounds were done in a quiet room, written on paper. There were no burning gazes from his peers out in the crowd. All he had to do was take a series of spelling tests. Easy enough.
Until he made it to the district level. This one was the real deal. Rows of the cleverest kids from across the city with yellow tag board signs designating the order in which they would step to the microphone and attempt to spell words that many of them had never heard before. When it was my son's turn, he didn't falter. Not in the first round. "C-O-N-C-E-R-N" was out of his mouth before he let himself think about it too much. When round two came, he had already seen half a dozen of his fellow spellers fall by the wayside. When I heard his second round word, I flinched: restaurant. As a fourth grade teacher, I had struggled with that word when my class had an entire week's study of a Mexican eatery. Sure enough, my genetic predisposition for misspelling that very word was passed down a generation. The annoying bell of epic failure, as he called it, chimed his moment to go and join us out in the cheap seats. His time in the sun was through.
He was awarded a certificate and a medal, a rather hefty piece of metal, for his efforts. He wore it to school the next morning, humbled but still proud of his ascent into the lofty realms of the district spelling bee. I was proud too. I was proud before he ever got on the stage. The good news is there's no Brett Favre moment. He's reached mandatory retirement age. To celebrate, we went out to a place that serves food.