EDITORIAL – Congratulations to Cayman’s spelling champs

Spelling bee champs, from left, Aleque-Benjamin Bennett (3rd place), Pranav Karuthedath Anu (2nd place), and Siri Chanda Bata (1st place) show off their trophies, with RBC's Mitzie Bailey and competition time keeper Rolan Heeralal. - PHOTO: JEWEL LEVY

Felicitations are apropos for the Cayman Islands’ triumvirate of orthographic nonpareils.

In other words … congratulations to the three winners of the country’s recent spelling bees: Creek and Spot Bay Primary School’s Siri Chandana Bata, Layman E. Scott Snr. High School’s Christon Asa Ferguson and John Gray High School’s Jelani Hanson.

Siri beat 48 of her peers to win the RBC Royal Bank Spelling Bee competition for primary school students, while Jelani and Christon emerged as co-champions of the Lions Club Spelling Bee competition for secondary school students.

While the pages of this newspaper are frequently filled with accounts of athletic accomplishments, it is not so often that we have the opportunity to pay tribute to victories secured by sheer academic prowess.

Like many challenges in life, the spelling of most words is not a “multiple choice” test – you’re either right, or you’re wrong. And in a spelling bee, the fact that you’re wrong is attended immediately by the dreaded “ding” of the ineluctable bell.

If you were to deconstruct the content of one’s education into its smallest integral components, you would eventually reach a bedrock composed of sounds, letters, syllables and words. To be an excellent speller is to demonstrate a mastery of fundamental language skills. The importance of this knowledge should not be undervalued and cannot be overrated.

A person just doesn’t suddenly become an excellent speller like Siri, Christon and Jelani. It takes a considerable amount of talent, time and effort to learn how to spell words correctly, particularly unusual words that are not part of one’s routine lexicon.

For example, Jelani spent about two to three hours each day studying for the secondary school competition, while his fellow co-champion Christon began preparing for the spelling bee months in advance. Such focus and dedication should be applauded and emulated by all residents in Cayman, including children and adults.

Unfortunately, outside of the recent spelling bee contestants, attentiveness to the art of spelling appears to be a rare commodity in Cayman.

We regularly read and receive text messages, comments, blog entries, letters, official documents, job applications – even curricula vitae – that are replete with misspellings and grammatical guesswork.

Poor spelling is evidence of either ignorance, indolence or some combination of the two. And no battery of computerized spellcheck programs can address the lamentable underlying issues for lack of ability, or lack of care, in written communication.

(As a preemptive aside to our readers, we at the Compass have been guilty of publishing misspellings. We have fortified our proofreading efforts but, alas, some still slip by and, when they do, we wince when we catch one.)

One of the members of the Compass Editorial Board happens to be a veteran of the most famous spelling competition in the world, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which takes place in Washington, D.C., and has been held for more than 90 years. As a former contestant, he is fully acquainted with the intellectual and psychological rigors involved in preparing for and competing in spelling bees, and he is also conscious of the value of such academic contests.

We think it’s time to consider turning up the bright lights on our country’s champion spellers, and to explore the possibility of sending our students to more competitive spelling bees on larger stages. The Compass would be proud to support such efforts editorially and financially.

We would love to see one of our students on national U.S. television unencrypting a particularly enigmatic word, with their effort punctuated, hopefully, not by a bell but by applause.

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