FOUR IMPORTANT LESSONS FOR PRONOUNCERS, PART 4

And our final lesson…at least for now.

“The pronouncer is not a judge.”

This lesson could probably be extrapolated into this particular theme: Everyone at a bee has a certain role and set of responsibilities. With as little exception as possible, each person should attend only to their responsibilities.

I coached a young man this year who made it to his district bee (which I did not attend). He received a word…and may or may not have spelled it correctly. Opinion was divided – not only amongst the judges, but also amongst the audience. There were three judges (an odd number, which is as it should be, to avoid stalemates), and two of them believed that he spelled the word correctly. One did not. At this, one of the judges looked over at the pronouncer and asked his opinion. The pronouncer shook his head. And with this twist, the poor speller had to stand in limbo for ten agonizing minutes while the judges and pronouncer conferred outside the doors of the auditorium. Finally, the officials returned, and with them, the dreaded ding of the bell. With this decision, our hapless hero ended up in 21st place in a bee where only the top 20 spellers qualified for the state bee. (And yes, the decision was appealed, and ultimately denied.)

It is possible to argue that because I was biased toward this speller, I’m trying to create an argument just to justify myself. Sure. But the argument itself is logical. The pronouncer pronounces. The judges judge. The spellers spell. Even if the pronouncer believes that the speller misspelled, it is not up to him or her to say so. Especially in this case, the majority of the judges ruled that our hero actually did spell the word correctly, and I do believe that he should have moved on to the next round. It is fine for the third judge to disagree, and for the judges to confer over exactly what was spelled. It happens all the time. Someone sneezes, a fly buzzes near a judge’s ear, a book drops at the wrong time, a judge temporarily loses concentration, and a letter can easily be misheard – or not heard at all. This is why there should be more than one judge…and again, ideally an odd number of judges. But in this instance, not only was the pronouncer pulling rank,  but in doing so, he created a deadlock that I can only assume was resolved by some coercion outside the doors of the auditorium.

Now that all bee activity in Colorado has ceased for the season, so ends this series of admonitions to pronouncers. But each bee has its quirks, and who knows what lessons may come up next year? My hope is that with these posts, bee organizers and staff can learn, concretely, what to do to ensure that future bees run smoothly, fairly, and professionally. And may the best spellers win.