National Spelling Bee Called Off Because of Coronavirus

In this May 30, 2019, file photo, Blake Bouwman of Grand Rapids, Michigan, tries to spell the word "coelogyne" during round eight of the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Scripps National Spelling Bee won’t be held as scheduled this year because of the coronavirus.

Scripps announced its decision Friday morning, citing recommendations against large gatherings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ongoing state of emergency in Maryland.

The bee had been scheduled for the week of May 24 at its longtime venue, a convention center in Oxon Hill, Maryland, just outside Washington.

Scripps said it would try to reschedule the bee for later this year but it did not commit to a new date. It’s possible the bee won’t be held at all.

“While the timing of the national finals is just outside the eight-week window recommended by the CDC, this is the safest and most responsible action,” Scripps said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision that unfortunately will disappoint students who have spent a great deal of time studying and preparing, along with their parents and teachers who have supported them. The focus now shifts to exploring all options to possibly reimagine a competition for later this year.”

The Scripps bee began in 1925 and this year's would have been the 93rd. It was not held from 1943-45 because of World War II.

Before the virus, Scripps' biggest concern for this year's bee was finding new ways to challenge the best young spellers in the English language. Last year's bee ended in an unprecedented eight-way tie after the bee ran out of words difficult enough to trip up the winners. Top spellers in recent years have used personal coaches and word databases that take into account Scripps' history and tendencies, removing much of the guesswork from the competition.

Rescheduling the bee would potentially require adjustments to eligibility rules and qualifying. Some local and regional bees have been postponed because of the virus, preventing spellers from qualifying for nationals. And the bee has historically been open to students only through the eighth grade. A bee held this fall would presumably include ninth-graders.

A rescheduled bee would also present logistical challenges because of the bee's need for a host venue that can accommodate roughly 400 spellers and their families, along with staff and television infrastructure. The finals of the competition are broadcast on ESPN, with earlier rounds on ESPN2, and that too could pose difficulties in the fall because of the sports network's other commitments.


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