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Author John Cech
Air Date 3/24/2004

Spellbound Transcript

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That’s Frank Neuhauser, the winner of the first National Spelling Bee, which was held in 1925. This interview is on the documentary film, Spellbound, about the 1999 championship. The director, Jeffrey Blitz follows eight middle-school students from around the country as they compete in their local and regional spelling bees, and then move on to the national spell off which is held in Washington, D.C. Over 9 million students each year begin this process, but only 249 ultimately qualify for the trip to the nation’s capital. If you don’t think this is an ordeal, listen closely to one of the training sessions that Neil is having with his dad, Rajesh, who’s quizzing him in their living room in California:

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All of these young people, it turns out, spend hours and hours every day, sometimes for years, preparing for their moment in front of the mike. They wear out dictionaries, they spell words in their sleep, they meditate, they take breaks and practice their archery. You learn, in the course of the film, about their study habits, their teachers, and, most especially, about themselves and their families. Angela is the daughter of a ranch worker who crossed the river from Mexico to Texas as a young man; his dream come true is to see his daughter assimilate and excel. April’s dad, from Ambler, Pennsylvania, gets so nervous, that he has to walk around the hotel while she’s spelling — and he tells her to “lighten up.” Ashley’s mom bursts with pride over her daughter’s winning the D.C. competition, but she wonders why a good deal of the media fusses more about the crimes that kids commit than it does about a child, like her daughter, who works hard and succeeds. And she’s right, of course. Just watch these young people. They’ll move and astonish you, and they make all of us proud, as they handle everything from Darjeeling to loggorhea — with great poise and intelligence and humor:

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Posted in Film