Adding one more to the long list of events that have been canceled because of the coronavirus, the national finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md. have been suspended.
The finals were to be a weeklong event, winnowing hundreds of contestants down to around 15 for the big championship bee on May 28. The annual contest is like a Super Bowl for spellers, and a prime-time television event for the rest of us. Contestants typically spend years preparing. Then they age out.
“Our hope is that the crisis lifts at some point this year and that we are able to simply reschedule our bee week,” said Paige Kimble, the executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. “But only if it is safe to do so.”
She said that the organization has been focusing on how to keep people safe and whether to postpone the May event. Now, it will start considering other options in case the bee can’t be held in person. “All ideas are on the table,” Ms. Kimble said.
The adolescents who participate in the national finals have to prove their mettle in local or state contests first. Those are also in some disarray; most regional contests have already taken place, but dozens have not.
In Maine, bee organizers were keeping a close eye on the spread of the virus and were planning to close the Maine State Spelling Bee — scheduled for March 21 — to the general public. This week, they suspended it altogether.
“Overwhelmingly they understood our decision and agreed that it was the right decision to make at the time,” Chris Sobiech, the coordinator of Maine State Spelling Bee, said of the participants and their parents. “But the kids were disappointed.”
Rebecca Aponte, 13, a home-schooled seventh grader in Maine, has been to the national bee twice as a spectator in support of her two brothers, who qualified in 2013 and 2018.
As the youngest of three, she is her family’s last shot at the national championship trophy. In February, she won the championship for Hancock County — her winning word was “iridescent” — and she has been studying hard to compete in the state bee and follow in her brothers’ footsteps to the national finals.
This week, she learned that both her state competition and the national contest would be postponed indefinitely.
“I was definitely disappointed, but I understand why they chose to cancel the bee,” she said, adding that she would be excited to participate at the national level this year or next, even if the format has to be reimagined.
Contestants who have qualified to compete this year will not have to worry about their age eligibility if the bee is rescheduled. The rules say that a contestant for the 2020 bee cannot have passed beyond the eighth grade by Aug. 31, 2019, and that remains unchanged.