Housebound Spellers Rally Around Virtual Bee

National spelling bee alumni are helping eighth-graders cope with the Scripps Bee cancellation.

Ghazala Irshad

May 14, 2020

Housebound Spellers Rally Around Virtual Bee
The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee

Imagine the Scripps National Spelling Bee taking place in living rooms over Zoom. Instead of a giant stage in a ballroom with seating for over 5,000, bright overhead lights, ESPN cameras, and a confetti and balloon drop from the ceiling — envision a shag rug with a sectional couch, a desk lamp, and a webcam.

The Bee couldn’t imagine it either. 

Scripps canceled the 2020 national finals for the first time since World War II due to the COVID-19 pandemic, disappointing more than 11 million students vying for about 500 spots in the May national finals. The winner gets a $50,000 prize. Eighth-graders are especially crushed — it’s their last year of eligibility and Scripps won’t extend the limit. In response, ex-spellers, still in their teens, are “virtually” rallying to keep the bee spirit alive with an online bee.

Navneeth Murali, 14, has so badly wanted to win the Scripps title, that he chose to spell through the pain when he broke his arm in a car accident on the way to his regional New Jersey bee last year, rather than miss the opportunity to earn a spot at nationals. Fortunately, he won the regional bee — but not the national. He was a favorite to win this year.

“I’m totally shattered and devastated,” Murali told the Associated Press when Scripps canceled the bee on April 21. “Spelling has basically been my life for so many years...I put all my effort into the chance of winning Scripps.”

“Our hearts go out to the spellers who won’t get their final shot at winning because of the pandemic and the difficult decisions it is prompting us to make,” Paige Kimble, executive director of the Bee, said in a statement.