Almanac

Schools - December 4, 2013

Spelling bee nearly dropped

by Emma Marsano

Stress and anxiety can accompany any spelling bee, but this year, students at La Entrada Middle School weren't just worried about getting their words right. They were concerned that there wouldn't be a spelling bee at all.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is run by the E.W. Scripps Co., and offers students up to age 15 the chance to compete against their peers in an annual nonprofit event.

Individual schools hold spelling bees of their own, and school winners go on to compete at the county and regional levels. Regional champions qualify for the national finals.

For the past 15 years, the San Francisco Chronicle has sponsored eight Bay Area counties, including San Mateo County, in the Scripps spelling bee, where the region's top spellers compete in a national contest.

But this year, a co-chair of the La Entrada Spelling Bee learned in late August that the Chronicle had withdrawn its support — without notifying the affected schools — when she tried to register La Entrada for the national event. A bit of digging revealed that the Chronicle had backed out quietly due to budget cuts.

That presented a serious problem: Sponsors are responsible for organizing and hosting county and regional competitions, and for providing schools with word lists and other materials that make a spelling bee possible. Without a sponsor, schools can't give their students the opportunity to go to the national contest at all.

Although La Entrada students and parents had reluctantly resigned themselves to missing the contest this season, the school learned on Oct. 11 that stations KPIX-TV and KBCW-TV have picked up sponsorship for the area. So, on the afternoon of Jan. 21, the La Entrada spelling bee will take place as originally planned. Now, participants can focus on preparing themselves for competition, without having to worry that their school won't have one.

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