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May 29, 2007

Anxiously Awaiting

(Before today’s post, I have some administrative thoughts … )

This past weekend was one of those times when life just caught up with me. We had family visiting from out of town, and it was a classic “cram a lot of activities into a limited amount of time” scenario that always becomes completely exhausting.

I barely managed a single workout over the three days, and when I had an opportunity for an early morning bike ride yesterday, I ultimately blew it off in favor of grabbing an additional 90 minutes of sleep. After the alarm went off, the decision to stay in bed took me about 2 seconds. And I have no doubt that it was the right call.

I also neglected checking my blog for comments to the previous post, which made it somewhat shocking when I clicked on the post last night and discovered the overwhelming response.

Thanks to everyone who gave me such positive feedback over the weekend. I realized that I received an even greater response when writing about my daughters than I do when I write about Beyonce. I mean … is this some sort of sign that I shouldn’t write about Beyonce anymore? Because I’m not sure if I’m ready to live in that kind of world just yet. But now, after such an outpouring of goodwill, it’s a dilemma I’ll probably wrestle with a hundred times between now and the next time VH1 releases a new Beyonce video.

(Another lesson here is this: I can find the downside of anything.)

Anyway, I had another post about my daughter that I originally planned on using today. However, it occurs to me that with all of the family sentimentality lately, this blog is starting to feel like the online Hallmark Channel. So I’m going to mix things up a bit, and save that post for another day - kind of like how they made you wait one year between those Lord of the Rings movies, even though the entire trilogy was filmed at the same time. Except that I won’t make you wait a year – it’ll be more like a couple of weeks. And my post won’t be quite as long as those movies. And it won’t be nearly as exciting. And … well, you get the idea.


For today, my focus shifts to the television event I look forward to more than any other: the one I find incredibly captivating, intellectually stimulating, and endlessly fascinating. The only event that keeps me riveted to my seat for 6 consecutive hours each year.

That’s right … it’s the Scripps National Spelling Bee – this Thursday, live from Washington, D.C. Let’s get this party started!

(And yes, there’s a triathlon analogy to this … but you have to read a little further to hear it. I’m determined to help you learn about competitive spelling this week.)

The NSB has become increasingly popular in the past few years, to the point where it will command a prime time national television audience for the final rounds on Thursday night. Almost everywhere you look, little spellers are popping up in movies, on TV shows, and in news documentaries.

Since I’ve watched the NSB so many times, it feels a little bit like watching a growing child become increasingly successful every year. And like a parent, I notice the growing pains the event occasionally goes through, and I cringe at some of the decisions that are made from time to time in the name of mainstream appeal.

Last year, it was the transition from daytime coverage on cable TV (ESPN) to prime time coverage on ABC (not coincidentally, ESPN’s parent company). Instead of just televising the Bee, ABC felt compelled to produce a lot of those “up close and personal” vignettes that make the Olympics so bothersome. I guess they thought Joe Sixpack wouldn’t be interested in the spelling kids if he didn’t know how many hours per week they were home schooled, or how many science awards they had won.

I understand the intention, but it’s a troublesome “dumbing down” of the NSB – I mean, what’s wrong with celebrating a legitimately cerebral competition, anyway? - and this year, ABC has taken things one step further (or lower, depending on your point of view) towards corrupting the very soul of the event.

Last month, it was announced that play-by-play of the final rounds would be handled by Mike and Mike, hosts of a highly rated sports-radio morning show on ESPN radio. In previous years, the Bee has been co-hosted by former contestants who could speak from experience about the challenges the kids face throughout the contest. This year, Mike and Mike promise to bring a “unique perspective” to the finals. And that’s exactly what scares me.

One of the Mikes (Golic) is a former Notre Dame and NFL football player, and the other (Greenberg) has been a well-respected sports journalist for many years. I actually enjoy them as sports radio hosts – especially when compared to the huge number of sports analysts who seem to think that simply being emphatic and outlandish are the key ingredients of quality commentary.

But here’s the thing: spelling bees aren’t any place for obnoxious, wise-cracking jocks to hang around. In fact, most of the kids in the NSB are probably happy to be absent from school for the week, simply to get away from kids like that back home.

Everything I’ve read about the NSB describes how these kids are so freakishly intellectual that they are misfits in their normal surroundings. But at the Bee, they meet 300 other kids just like them, and they realize that it’s OK to be smarter than everyone else, or to dedicate yourself to something that other people misunderstand or ridicule.

In that regard, the NSB is the Wildflower of spelling bees: it attracts the best competitors from all over the country, who hang out together for most of the week celebrating the similarities of their lifestyles. Then they compete against each other for one day, and ultimately leave with more new friendships and good memories than they imagined. Throw in hundreds of attractive college students and a naked snack shop, and it’s basically the same thing.

(Also, if you think the online running/triathlete community was big … we’ve got nothing on the spellers. Do you know any 12-year-olds who aren’t computer savvy?)

Now imagine if ABC decided to televise Wildflower, but instead of hiring Cameron Widoff or Paula Newby-Fraser for commentary, they turned the reins over to Rosie O’Donnell. Instead of someone who appreciates the event, viewers are stuck with a host who is obnoxious, disinterested, and feels compelled to make snarky jokes every few seconds – probably at the expense of the competitors. It would be a complete disaster, right?

That’s where I fear we’re headed with this year’s NSB, with two dumb-jock hosts who are more concerned with clowning around than giving the spellers the limelight they deserve. On the other hand, I suppose an argument could be made that I do almost the same thing each year with my running diaries. So I guess I should be careful about pointing fingers until I actually see what Mike and Mike bring to the telecast. But suffice it to say I’m concerned … just like any cautious parent would be.

And I’m officially counting the hours until Thursday.


Bolder 5/29/07, 12:06 PM  

i am koncerned to.

der is really know reazon to mix jox and spellers together.

they mix jox and spellers wit me.

lok what happen.

ur litle gurl is in Lords of Rings?


Runner Susan 5/29/07, 12:25 PM  

beyonce posts are always welcome . . . and so are spelling bees and daughter's artwork . . . living together in harmony.

rick 5/29/07, 1:55 PM  

You're cracking me up with your passion for Spellling Bee's. I'm not completely sold yet but will be following to see how the Mike and Mike thing turns out. Maybe they'll just add more oopmh to the broadcast and get more viewers interested.

"Everything I’ve read about the NSB describes how these kids are so freakishly intellectual that they are misfits in their normal surroundings. But at the Bee, they meet 300 other kids just like them, and they realize that it’s OK to be smarter than everyone else"

Hahaha, never been freakishly intellectual but I can relate. Almost every ultra I start, there's a sigh of relief on my part..."ah I'm with some of my people again. No, no, it's not freakish to want to run all day and night, we can't be all freaks can we:)"

momo 5/30/07, 8:28 AM  

i can't wait to watch either. how about a little friendly betting on the outcome... :-)

Mike 5/30/07, 10:28 PM  

Wildflower and Rosie!? Oh the horror!!
I can't believe a year has gone by since your NSB updates from last year..time flies!

momo 5/31/07, 10:03 AM  

tried to email you, but it was rejected! :-)

you need to pick someone else because he just misspelled a word (before i read your email) and my girl, kavya shivashankar is still in.

what do you want to bet?

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