This story is by Calvin Lewandowski and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
JJ’s Mom said, “JJ, turn the TV off and do your schoolwork.”
“But, Mom, Mom, this, this, this is ah spelling, ah spelling, ah, ah spell off.”
“You need to get your schoolwork done before you can watch TV.”
“But, but, I want to see the, the ah spell off. I could do that.”
“You could do what, JJ?”
“The ah, ah, spell off. I, I know all those words, words. Come, come, come see.” His persistence paid off. His mother observed the show that was playing for a few minutes.
She then asked, “What makes you think you could do that?”
He responded, “Mom, you know I know all, all those words, and, and more.”
She then asked, “JJ, you would have to be quiet and wait your turn. That might be very difficult for you to do with your condition. Have you thought about that?”
“Mom, you can, can, can teach me, me.”
“I will talk with your teacher and see what she thinks and see if she knows what it takes. Now turn off the TV and get your schoolwork done.”
Molly stopped in at the office to check-in before her appointment with JJ’s teacher, Ms. Rosemont, to discuss JJ’s wish to take part in the next National Spelling Bee. One of the office personnel asked, “May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m JJ’s mother, and I’m here for a meeting with Ms. Rosemont.”
“Please sign in, and we will let Ms. Rosemont know that you are here.” Glancing at the register, the office worker said, “Mrs. Kollburn, please take a seat while you wait.”
Ms. Rosemont entered the office with her arms full of sundry items for her meeting with JJ’s mother. She greeted Molly, and they moved into a small conference room adjoining the office. “Mrs. Kollburn, I’m not sure that JJ is a suitable candidate for the National Spelling Bee.”
“Molly, please. What do you mean?”
“Well, Molly, he’s a good kid, and he’s an excellent speller, but I don’t think he can work in the structured environment of a spelling bee.”
Molly said, “JJ said he could learn if I will teach him what they expect of him. I know that he is serious about wanting to do this if he wants me to help him learn to control himself.”
“That may well be the case, but I’m not sure he understands how hard it will be for him. I will work with him as we do the practice bee’s and if he can improve, we can register him for the first step. Is that amenable with you?”
When JJ arrived home from school, he was eager to let his Mom know that there would be a practice bee next week. He gave his Mom a note from Ms. Rosemont, which showed there would be several more over the next couple of months leading up to the region’s spelling bee. She spoke with JJ about the two enormous books that he had with him when he came into the house. JJ said, “They are, are practice books for the spell, spell off. I’ll read them, them tonight.”
His Mom told him, “They might be a little too long to read in one night,” but it didn’t deter him.
In the morning, JJ was sleepy and struggled to prepare for school. His Mom asked him if he had trouble sleeping. He said, “I read, read the books so I would be, be ready for, for the spell off.”
“Did you read the whole thing? Both books?”
“Did you get any sleep?”
“Yes, Mom, I slept some, some a little.”
She wrote a note to Ms. Rosemont to explain why JJ might not be as alert during his classes. In the same letter was her request for things to have JJ practice for the upcoming bees. She didn’t know the structure spelling bees follow and wanted to prepare JJ for his first practice bee.
The day arrived for JJ’s first practice spelling bee, and his mother was eager to know how it had gone. She was finding it hard to wait for JJ to get home. JJ was late arriving home, which was unusual. He was usually very punctual. When he entered the front door, he had several additional items in his hands. He told his Mom, “Ms. Rosemont sent these for you, and she tried to hide a letter inside the front page of this book. I saw her put it there. It tells you the things, things I didn’t do right, right, Mom, sorry, Mom. I tried hard, Mom.”
“Did you read it?”
“No, well, a little. I’m sorry, sorry, Mom.”
Molly opened the letter from Ms. Rosemont with apprehension, hoping that it wasn’t too bad. To her surprise, it was upbeat knowing JJ’s predilection to blurt out things before it’s his turn. His teacher commented that he had tried harder than she had ever seen him try before. He had only slipped up twice, and one of those times, he caught himself, putting his hand over his mouth to stop himself. Ms. Rosemont wrote that it was cute to see him trying to stop himself that way, but it will only take one slip up in an official bee to disqualify him, so we must work on it a lot more.
Over the next month, JJ continued to improve, but he still had to work hard not to spell another contestant’s word. It would only take a moment where he lost focus to have him accidently spell someone’s word. He was doing well, stepping to the mike and following the structure for his turn in each of the rounds. Molly originally had concerns that he would struggle with it, but he seemed to be able to handle dealing with the Pronouncer and judges. Molly and Jim had worked diligently with JJ on how to handle himself during an official spelling bee, and it appeared to be paying off.
Parents of the other contestants did everything possible to stop JJ from being allowed to take part in the region’s spelling bee and successfully got the local school to remove him from their sponsorship. Ms. Rosemont’s efforts were for nought.
JJ’s parents researched and found another pathway that he might use, so they applied. Molly opened the letter they received from the National Spelling Bee organizers. A smile came across her face, and JJ asked, “Did, did, I get in, in?”
“Yes, you get to go to the National Spelling Bee.”
JJ, one of the three remaining spellers, remained with his eyes closed, jaw and fists clenched, and focusing on proper behavior, awaiting his turn in the nineteenth round. The Pronouncer said, “JJ, your word is fluorescence.”
He asks, “May I have the meaning?”
The Pronouncer read, “a state or period of flourishing.”
JJ said, “Florescence,” and then spelled, “F L O R E S C E N C E,” and repeated, “florescence.”
He nearly lost focus when he heard the judge’s sound the bell for his incorrect spelling. Followed by the Pronouncer saying, “fluorescence,” and then spelling, “F L U O R E S C E N C E.”
JJ’s face went white, then became contorted most unusually, because he knew he had spelled the word associated with the definition he received. He was so stunned he couldn’t move, so they removed him from the stage.
Seeing his look of confusion, told his mother that either the Pronouncer or judges had made a mistake. She grabbed her dictionary and charged forward to make her challenge. JJ was no longer on the stage, and they proceeded to the next contestant who misspelled her word. Molly got to the judges in time to have them stop for her emphatic challenge to their judgment.
Everything came to a halt while they quietly reviewed the evidence. The two individuals that escorted JJ off now brought him back on stage as the officials retook their places. The Pronouncer then stood facing JJ to say, “Joshua James Kollburn, I, along with the judges and all the National Spelling Bee personnel, owe you an apology for the confusion in your last round. We made an error that caused you to spell the incorrect word. Please forgive us?”
“Yes, yes, I forgive you, Sir.”
“Thank you, JJ.”
After they resolved the challenge, the remaining speller misspelled his word. Molly’s concern was that the incident might have caused JJ to lose focus.
They called him to the mike for his word. He needed to spell one last word correctly. You could hear a pin drop as the Pronouncer said, “JJ, your word is predilection.”
“predilection, P R E D I L E C T I O N, predilection.”
“That is correct. Joshua James Kollburn, congratulations, you are this year’s National Spelling Bee Champion!” He then exploded with a triumphant double fist pump in the air.