The one thing no contestant wants to hear this week at the Scripps National Spelling Bee is the sound of a bell.
The dreaded “ding” means you’ve blown your word and you’re heading home.
Well, the folks who run the bee need to have their own bell rung. And who better to ding it than your favorite columnist?
The spelling bee has been a big deal since it was initiated in 1925, and it has gotten even bigger in recent years, with 11 million kids now participating and the final day being televised live on ESPN2.
This year’s national finals are Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, D.C.
The Beacon Journal was one of nine newspapers that hooked up to create the first bee, designed to promote literacy. E.W. Scripps (then Scripps-Howard) took over sponsorship in 1941.
But for years, Scripps has been disseminating misinformation about the 1927 winner, who was from Wayne County and sponsored by — you guessed it — the Beacon Freaking Journal.
Scripps’ official website shows the winning word as “luxuriance.”
The list in Wikipedia shows the same thing.
The word was “abrogate.” We ought to know. We gave Dean Lucas’ victory massive front-page coverage on June 4, 1927.
The 13-year-old from West Salem won $1,000 in gold — a dollar value of about $14,300 today.
The Beacon ran a wall-to-wall headline across the top of Page One, along with his photo and three stories. The third sentence in the main story read: “?‘Abrogate’ was the word that brought Dean victory.”
Oddly enough, this error by Scripps was brought to my attention not by one of Lucas’ relatives or anyone in Akron. I was clued in by the daughter of the 1929 winner, who was from Omaha, Neb.
Mimi Coffman grew up in Omaha and now lives in North Carolina. Her mother, Virginia Hogan, won the 1929 bee with the word — you guessed it — “luxuriance.”
Coffman figures a typist transposed some words back in the pre-computer days and the mistake stuck. She says she has been trying for years to get Scripps to correct the error, to no avail.
“?‘Luxuriance’ was one of the first words we were taught to spell as young children,” she wrote, “and Mom had a scrapbook with all the clippings from national newspapers at the time showing the correct word.
“She died many years ago, but the grandchildren and great-grandchildren still take pride in her accomplishment and would like to have the record corrected.”
Her wish was my command.
Previously unbeknownst to me, the Beacon Journal’s contact at Scripps’ headquarters in Cincinnati is a wonderful young lady named Nicole Dittoe. I know she is wonderful because she is the daughter of a close college friend of mine and I have met her.
Anyway, Ms. Dittoe wrote:
“I have passed your message along to our communications team so that the PDF [I sent her of the front page] can be reviewed and a correction made. Thanks for bringing this error to our attention.
“The early records of the bee, prior to Scripps inheriting the program, are incomplete, so this is helpful in updating our archives.”
The corrections won’t happen immediately, though.
“It’s a bit hectic around here as we finalize last-minute details and prepare to welcome our 300 spellers and thousands of guests to the bee.
“The team that handles website updates may not be in a position to make the correction until we return to our office from Bee Week, but we will get this correction taken care of soon.”
Granted, this isn’t a huge deal in the overall scheme of things. Still, it feels nice to correct the record, even 90 years after the event. A baseball fan would certainly want to correct the box score from the 1927 World Series.
And I certainly wouldn’t want to, ahem, abrogate my responsibility to history.
Here’s hoping more Akron history will be written this week by Owen Kovalik, an eighth-grader at Medina Christian Academy who is making his third consecutive trip to the finals as the Akron Regional champ.
His ticket to D.C.: “elucidate.”
Wednesday’s preliminary rounds will be shown on the ESPN app. Thursday’s finals will be on the app and also on ESPN2 and ESPNU, the latter providing a play-along version.
That’s probably the same app Dean Lucas’ friends used in 1927.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31