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Coronavirus Has Canceled the Scripps National Spelling Bee


Naysa Modi rests in between turns during the final round of the 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center May 31, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. Modi took second place in the competition. - GETTY

Citing an inability to host a safe event during a global pandemic, the people behind the Scripps National Spelling Bee announced yesterday that the 2020 edition of the event would be canceled. It’s the first time the annual event, which dates to 1925, hasn’t been held since 1943-1945, when World War II preempted it.

Bee executive director (and 1981 champion) Paige Kimble broke the bad news in a statement posted on to the event’s website.

“Our thoughts immediately go to our spellers and their families. The students have dedicated time and effort to their passion for learning. They should be proud of all they have accomplished by winning spelling bees at the classroom, school and regional level,” she wrote.

“Nevertheless, our first priority has to be the health and well-being of our spellers and their families and the hundreds of staff and spectators that come together for Bee Week.”

The news is another blow to ESPN, which is losing arguably the most compelling event on its calendar, but it’s truly tragic for the approximately 400 spellers who have dedicated much of their young lives to orthography.

“I’m totally shattered and devastated,” 14-year-old Navneeth Murali of Edison, New Jersey, told the AP. “Spelling has basically been my life for so many years. … I put all my effort into the chance of winning Scripps, and this morning I found out it was all gone.”

Murali is one of the eighth-graders losing their final chance to compete. The bee is open only to elementary and middle school students, and Scripps has signaled that it will not modify those rules for next year’s bee which will be held on the first three days of June next year, assuming it’s safe to assemble by then.