Archive for Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Chinstraps and mouthpieces

Horses and bees provide interests

June 9, 2004

For David Tidmarsh, his victory last Wednesday could be summed up in one word -- autochthonous.

The 14-year-old from South Bend, Ind., made his way through the word, voice trembling, as he became the champion of the 77th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

There are two sporting events I usually don't get involved in -- spelling bees and horse racing.

And by involved I mean watch on the edge of my seat while cheering.

After all, I did make a couple appearances in county spelling bees. As for being a jockey, although my physique is a tad larger than the average horse rider, I don't think there ever could be a future in that profession for me.

Nope, my interest in these two events grew because of two different reasons. The spelling bee happened to be on ESPN when I was switching through channels. And the horse race has been on everyone's radar screen since Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness.

Smarty Jones' bid for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 was a perfect storyline. At the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, it appeared Smarty Jones would be just the 12th to accomplish the feat.

Instead of more Triple Crown talk, however, people were wearing triple frowns.

As was I, but the spelling bee captivated me much more.

These junior high students made their way through these words at a deliberate pace, but they were correctly spelling words such as dipneumonous and sophrosyne.

Heck, I even had my odds-on favorite. Luckily, it was Tidmarsh.

The eventual champ spelled every word and then swiftly walked back to his seat with no doubt as to whether he spelled his word correctly.

Round after round, this was the case for Tidmarsh. Although others would stay momentarily at the microphone, Tidmarsh made a bee-line for his seat, never turning an ear to hear the sound of elimination.

Correctly spelling the word was signified by silence. Incorrect words were noted with a bell sound.

Tidmarsh's run was exciting, but after looking at his road to the final round, he did catch a break.

Round 1 is a written exam, which leaves 256 spellers for Round 2. Tidmarsh's draw for that round was phalanx, not an easy spell, but Round 3 was a different story.

Tidmarsh was faced with the task of spelling "kiwi." This was like Duke drawing a No. 16 seed with a losing record in the NCAA Tournament. Granted, it was like playing Kentucky, Arizona and Connecticut in the coming rounds with ombrophilous, succenturiate and foudroyant as his next words, but "kiwi"? Hey, I can spell that and even define it.

Second-place finisher Akshay Buddiga, interestingly enough, had to spell another fruit in the third round. He spelled maraschino, which is a type of cherry.

Buddiga's fainting spell, of course, gained the most interest from anyone tuning into the news that night. Faced with the word alopecoid, Buddiga dropped to his left. He then made his way back to the microphone and spelled the word.

That was in Round 6.

When it was Buddiga's turn to spell his next word every subsequent round, officials positioned a chair in front of the microphone.

Buddiga was a trooper, lasting until Round 14 when he misspelled schwarmerei. That was one step shy of older brother Pratyush's national title in 2002.

That's pressure.

After the fainting spell, Buddiga used an ESPN commercial break to take a restroom break after downing plenty of soda and water.

A doctor wanted Buddiga to consume plenty of liquids after the fainting incident, but the impending pit stop again delayed the contest.

A judge then informed him that the delays would shorten his time limit for his upcoming word because of new time limit rules.

Despite the distractions, he came one step from equaling big brother's feat.

Second place still wasn't bad, considering he received $6,000 in cash and prizes -- not scholarships to be used at a later date, but cash.

Tidmarsh received $17,000 in cash and prizes.

Even more fascinating than spellers needing to sit down for a spell or two junior high students receiving plenty of dough was the "writing" of the words.

Participants could be found scribbling on the back of their placards as they stood behind the microphone.

Spellers, however, couldn't use writing utensils. Instead, they were picturing what the words would look like.

Some would even stop their imaginary writing to look at the first imaginary letters they wrote in their imaginary words. Somehow, though, they usually got the job done.

I'll probably never use any of the words I came in contact with while watching the bee after writing this column (except kiwi and maraschino).

With that in mind, I shall use one high-dollar word (hey, it's hard to use some of these words in sentences) to express my view of the pro basketball playoffs.

My vaticination for the NBA finals is that the Pistons will take the Lakers in six games.

Sorry, I don't have the word's origin.

As for a definition, it's in the dictionary.

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