Competition comes in many shapes, sizes and arenas.
This week, one of the most entertaining, stressful, addicting, hilarious, heartbreaking and inspiring competitions of the year takes center stage at the National Spelling Bee.
This year's competition features 278 students, including one 6-year-old, who have succeeded in local bees and advanced to the national competition near Washington, D.C. The event has become so popular since its inception in 1925, the final rounds are now broadcast live on ESPN.
You have probably seen at least snippets of the competition and can picture the setting: a line of students, their name badges hanging around their necks, standing behind a microphone on stage. Each takes his or her turn at spelling a word provided to them by the event's official pronouncer, as the judges listen carefully to each letter. If the dreaded "ding" of the judges' bell is heard, the student is eliminated.
As the semifinals become the finals, fewer students remain on stage, seated in chairs until it's their turn at the mic. The situation seems every bit as pressure-packed as those do-or-die moments in sports.
In the Spelling Bee, students have been known to sweat, squeal, scream, sing, cry and even faint in the stress of the moment. But like other competitions, with the pressure of great expectations also comes a great sense of pride.
Though it appears that each student competes alone, there is an entire "team" associated with each child - parents, teachers, sponsors, study-buddies, home towns and cheering sections.
And while each child is competing "against" the others, there is a profound sense of camaraderie between the students. Applause for each contestant is more than polite, and high-fives among competitors are not uncommon.
Each contestant must appreciate the level of dedication needed to reach the national level of the Spelling Bee. It's so much more than memorizing lists of words. Students learn and study word origins, particularly Greek and Latin, but also French and German, among other languages. Kids also study spelling rules, word pronunciations and even the way that words are broken down by syllable.
Scripps, which sponsors the national event, awards more than $100,000 in prizes, including $30,000 to the champ.
The odds of winning are slim, so the students' motivation must go beyond the money. In this age of technology, where so many of our youth communicate via text-speak, fraught with abbreviations and grammatical errors, and where every written document is easily electronically spell-checked, the commitment reflected in the accomplishment of even getting to the National Spelling Bee is simply P-H-E-N-O-M-E-N-A-L.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.