Rekindled Hill Vs. Hacks Rivalry Fuels Centennial Spelling Bee

Posted September 17, 2013 at 1:24pm

It’s been a century since Ohio Republican Frank B. Willis wrestled the “Best Speller in the United States” crown from Washington Post editor Ira E. Bennett, sealing the fate of the flummoxed scribes at the National Press Club’s inaugural spelling contest.

The media will get the chance to redeem itself at 8 p.m. Wednesday when head-scratching words again start flying in the Press Club Ballroom.

Tickets to the fundraiser —  benefiting the non-profit NPC Journalism Institute — are $15 for NPC members and students, or $25 general admission.

Political contenders include: Reps. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., and Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., and Chris Coons, D-Del.

The competing journos include: fellow Roll Caller and World’s Greatest Deliberative Body maven Meredith Shiner, Heard on the Hill alumnus-cum-Fox News Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry, Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post, Major Garrett of CBS News, Kate Nocera of BuzzFeed, Rebecca Sinderbrand of Politico, Ashley Southall of the New York Times, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post and Toby Zakaria of Reuters.

Event coordinator Katy Steinmetz told HOH that Merriam-Webster is covering the word selection/pronunciation duties. Scripps National Spelling Bee vet Paige Kimble — she won the national contest in 1981 and now serves as its executive director — will co-judge the event alongside Heidi Hamilton, chairwoman of the linguistics department at Georgetown University. Peter Sokolowski, editor/pronouncer at Merriam-Webster, is on standby should the need for a third judge (can you spell T-I-E-B-R-E-A-K-E-R?) arise.

Per Steinmetz, the club reached out to pols serving on the education committees first, quickly filling up the legislative roster with those who RSVP’d the fastest.

From the sound of things, the participating pols are taking this (somewhat) seriously.

A Coons aide noted that the boss has his quirks (“His professors at Amherst and Yale would be proud of the speller he’s become”), but looks forward to tackling words he doesn’t have to deal with every day.

The one he’d most like to get away from: Filibuster.

“I mean, he can spell it, but he doesn’t like that he has to so often,” Team Coons told HOH.

Murphy revealed that he’s never tried his hand at a spelling bee (strike one); has trouble with some common words — “I have no idea how to spell ‘guarantee’ (sp?) — (strike two); and plans to keep a close eye on Nocera  — “I’m told she’s been practicing for two hours every day for months.”

Kaine, meanwhile, sounded supremely sure of himself on the day the resurrected contest was announced.

“My state has Nassawadox, Wachapreague, and was founded near Werowocomoco. So yea, I feel confident,” he assured his Twitter followers.