Thursday night, in conjunction with ESPN’s televising of the 82nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee earlier that day in Washington, D.C., ESPNzones across America hosted the second annual ESPNzone Sports Spelling Bee.
Fans were given the chance to sign up and attempt to spell the names of their favorite athletes, coaches and ESPN personalities. I was one of the 35 contestants on hand at the Times Square store, and did some reporting via Twitter in between turns, where I spent most of my time studying how to spell Krzyzewski.
Now, I invite you to relive the event through my running diary, along with some commentary to better explain it. After all, Twitter’s 140 character limit doesn’t give you much to work with.
4:48 p.m. – En route to the ESPNzone in NYC to take part in the Sports Spelling Bee! Wish me luck!
6:12 p.m. – Going to participate in my first spelling bee since I was in seventh grade, when I misspelled “melancholy” and stormed off the stage. This should be interesting…
As of yesterday, I still couldn’t spell melancholy. I had to look it up.
7:06 p.m. – Mingling with the rest of the field in the Skybox, the VIP room at the ESPNzone, overlooking the dining room, and the microphone. Pretty cool.
I had a few friends in my “cheering section” to the right side of the Screening Room, relaxing in reclining chairs near the front.
I had a considerably smaller amount of fans than most of my competition, but hey, it was pretty short notice so I was happy to have anyone there rooting for me.
7:08 p.m. – Rest of the field, not so cool. A lot of goofy lookin’ people in this room.
Now you’re probably saying, “Mike, what did you expect? It’s a spelling bee.” But I got such a kick out of looking around that room, though. There I stood among 34 other “contestants,” five of which were females. Which means there was me, five decent looking women and 29 virgins.
My first impression of the room was the gathering in the middle of a few gentlemen, two of which would later face off in the competition’s final round, and one less-than-stellar looking girl, who was absolutely getting more attention from these guys than she’d ever gotten in her life. I was doing everything in my power not to laugh, too hard, that is.
Now, I’m no Brad Pitt. But looking around that room, I would’ve looked an awful lot like Joe Black, with slightly darker hair, to you if you saw what I was up against.
7:12 p.m. – They gave us a free $20 game card for the arcade upstairs. I can’t wait to beat my friends in air hockey later.
For the record, I beat my friend Kristina once in air hockey and once in basketball. She put me to shame in Daytona USA though. I was pretty embarrassed.
7:15 p.m. – 35 contestants, not 50 like I originally thought. Really liking my chances tonight.
First prize was awarded an official ESPNzone private party, $250 Amex Gift Card, and the “coveted” ESPNzone Sports Spelling Bee trophy, which stood roughly six inches, in all its’ glory.
7:17 p.m. – 2nd place prize: Autographed stick by New Jersey Devils’ Zach Parise. Gross.
This was funny, and showed just how far hockey really has fallen.
The store manager was going over the prizes and she said “second place will receive an autographed hockey stick by number nine, on the New Jersey Devils, who’s name I don’t know, I’ll have to look up.” “Parise,” I chimed in, “Zach Parise.”
You know, the Devils’ star forward who had over 40 goals this season? Ugh, I blame you, Gary Bettman.
7:20 p.m. – We’re going to be asked to spell either the first or last name of the athlete, whichever is harder. That answers that question.
I had been studying for most of the day, and had a list of over 100 names, both first and last names, not knowing which they’d ask. ESPN 1050 Radio personality Robin Lundberg was the host for the event, saying the names and choosing whether you’d spell the first or last name.
You may know him from Around the Herd with Colin Cowherd, a show I always listen to when I can. Cowherd really got my attention with his mockery of Orioles’ fans following this year’s Opening Day. Click here, and read about how right I think he was.
Anyways, Lundberg did a pretty solid job navigating through the competition, throwing out tiny jokes every once in a while that few of us would appreciate. My favorite was when a gentleman wearing a Florida Panthers’ jersey under a blue blazer stepped up to spell.
“Oh wow I should give you a hockey name, shouldn’t I,” he proclaimed. “Okay, here you go. Spell Joakim Noah.” That got a rise out of the remaining contestants, including myself, catching their breath in the Skybox.
7:23 p.m. – Numbers 1-10 getting ready to begin. I hope nine of them get hockey players.
They gave us cards to pin to our shirts, much like the National Spelling Bee does with their contestants. We were to line up 10 at a time, where we would walk down to the dining room level and sit near the microphone.
I was No. 26, so I got the advantage of watching 1-20 from the Skybox. I overheard a few different groups of people saying how they had a lot of trouble with hockey players’ names.
I was expecting to see quite a few of them such as Zherdev, Sjostrom, Lundqvist, etc., but was sadly disappointed in the lack of NHL names that would surely trip up my competitors. Once again, thanks Gary Bettman.
7:31 p.m. – Girl spells “Arroyo” wrong for the first eliminated of the night.
The second person to go, she couldn’t spell Bronson Arroyo. At this point, I was convinced that I had a very, very good shot at winning this.
7:36 p.m. – BRUNEY was just spelled wrong! Are you kidding me?
That’s right, at the Times Square store, someone spelled the name of Yankees’ reliever Brian Bruney wrong. I was so embarrassed for him. This was the funniest moment of the night by far.
I was sitting in the middle of the Skybox, and as soon as the host asked the contestant to spell Bruney, my friends immediately looked up at me. I stopped studying my cheat sheet of over 100 names, and directed all my attention to watching this guy squirm for 30 seconds.
He stumbled to his only life line, “Uhm… what team does he play for?”
Lundberg hesitated, as if almost to say, “Really man?” before answering, “the New York Yankees.” Upon spelling it B-R-O-O-N-E-Y.
I threw my papers up in disgust and had to walk around for a minute to stop from giggling like a schoolgirl. Why couldn’t you ask me how to spell Bruney?
7:38 p.m. – Four of the first ten contestants go down.
These words were pretty easy. I was shocked. At this point, it got a little hard to continue twitting and getting ready to spell my word. So the timeline got a bit skewed as the night went on.
7:51 p.m. – A guy from numbers 11-20 was just given Chris Drury. Really?
7:54 p.m. – Getting ready to go…
I was getting pretty nervous right about now. You could’ve asked me how to spell anything and it would’ve made me a little nervous. Part of me really wanted to get Tim Couch, the Browns’ former quarterback, so I could recite the line from Billy Madison.
“C-O-R……ARE you going to the mall later, that’s what I was asking.” Then, after checking myself and spelling it correctly, I’d proclaim “I am the smartest man alive!”
8:02 p.m. – G-R-I-E-S-E! On to round 2!
Oh what a relief that was. I remember the guy before me got Zach Greinke. As I sat there, I realized that in a rush I would’ve spelled it Grienke. Oddly enough, I got the opposite of the E-I/I-E spectrum.
Lucky for me I used to be a Denver Broncos’ fan as a kid. They really tried to pick up the pace shortly, especially with nearly half the field on their way home already.
After all, they were trying to get this over with as soon as possible so everyone could enjoy the Cavs-Magic playoff game.
8:18 p.m. – Getting ready to go again…
One of the gentlemen in my second group of ten was given Kosuke Fukudome, the outfield for the Chicago Cubs. A daunting name, because of it’s foreign nature, but all in all, not that hard to spell.
Regardless, the man, who went two places in front of me, was flabbergasted by this name. “You’re kidding me,” he said angrily into the microphone. He spelled it F-U-K-O-D-O-M-E, and was dismissed.
8:21 p.m. – Apparently Iannetta has 2 Ns. That does it for me. Damn guy before me got Eric Hinske. That sucks.
Yup, Chris Iannetta, the catcher for the Colorado Rockies, was the name that bounced me. His name wasn’t even on my radar.
I rushed a little bit when I was spelling it, but thought I got it right. That was a bummer.
8:23 p.m. – Made it about halfway through the field. Not bad. I need a beer.
My friends and I stuck around to watch the end of the competition. My money was on the reigning champion, Jeffrey Feldman, who had nearly half the Screening Room pulling for him. It was pretty funny, every time he stepped to the mic it was like Derek Jeter walking to the plate in the Bronx.
8:28 p.m. – Last year’s champ, Jeffrey Feldman, bites the dust, failing to reach the final ten.
I was one of many on hand that was shocked, and slightly disappointed to see Feldman lose. He was one of the few people in the room at the beginning of the night that looked close to normal. So this year’s competition was totally up for grabs.
8:42 p.m. – Teixeira spelled wrong. Awful. Just awful. Not many Yankee fans here I guess.
Oh boy was I mad. I told anyone that would listen all day when I was studying that someone would trip on Teix. Just based on the amount of "die-hard” Yankee fans I’m friends with that can’t spell his name, I was kind of hoping someone would. Sadly, seeing someone get it wrong offered me no consolation.
8:49 p.m. – No apostrophe in D’Antoni! See ya! Wow, this is harsh!
The rules were made clear to us in the Skybox that though we were not responsible for capitalization of letters in the name, all apostrophes had to be accounted for. So when a contestant in the final ten got Knicks’ head coach Mike D’Antoni, he didn’t spell it incorrectly, technically. But he didn’t include the apostrophe.
This was an interesting minute in the competition, because it was clear that neither the store manager nor Lundberg was paying much attention to a detail like that, despite it being in the rules. In fact, the crowd in the dining room recognized it, and began to let out a displeased groan, which ultimately forced the manager’s hand.
She disqualified him from the competition, as a roar went up from the overzealous and mostly inebriated crowd. That’s tough.
8:56 p.m. – Down to the final two…words are getting intense. Samardzija, Saltalamacchia, Krzyzewski—this should be over quickly.
As far as spelling bees go, the final round was extremely entertaining. It featured a middle aged man named Kenny Eisenman, from Bellmore, NY, who was overly cocky, motioning to tap the bell after every answer he knew was correct like some kind of trademark celebration, and a slightly younger, much more reserved Dan Sulzer from Long Beach, NY.
I had overheard Eisenman talking about hockey players before we had gotten started in the Skybox.
“All you need to know is the Russians,” he said, as if to dismiss the sport I have an undying passion for. “Yeah, they’re tough,” I chimed in. “Don’t forget the Swedes, pal. One of those will probably trip you up.” **cough FORESHADOWING cough**
9:05 p.m. – BOTH MISSPELL THEIR WORDS! SUDDEN DEATH CONTINUES!
Watching this was very much like watching last year’s epic UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea. You know, John Terry misses the winning kick in the rain, blah blah Cristiano Ronaldo blah blah, United wins.
God, I hate Manchester United. But I digress. These two went back and forth for about ten minutes spelling pretty difficult names ranging from Yastremski to Umenyiora to Szczerbiak. Eisenman missed his word, and all Sulzer had to do was spell Tom Thibodeau, the Celtics’ assistant coach, correctly to win.
But he missed it too! The crowd was shocked, I was shocked, the store manager was pissed because she was losing NBA playoff business, but we had more spelling to do!
See, I told you. Pretty damn exciting for a spelling bee.
9:12 p.m. – Dan Sulzer from Long Beach is the winner after his competitor misspells Khabibulin! Shoulda watched more hockey!
I was so excited that Eisenman missed Nikolai Khabibulin, after him saying how he’s not that worried about hockey players’ names. Like thrilled. Then, for all the marbles, Sulzer stepped to the mic and correctly spelled the name of Bills’ linebacker Paul Posluszny for the win. Good for him, though. I was so happy that Eisenman didn’t win. He was entirely too cocky.
I’m such a bitter person. Oh well, score one for hockey.
I went up to Sulzer after he received his trophy and shook his hand, congratulating him on a trophy he certainly earned. “Nice job buddy. I’ll be back for that next year,” I said as I let him go on his merry way and enjoy the moment.
I headed upstairs to the arcade floor, where I would go on to drink and enjoy playing games with my friends until the double consonants in Iannetta no longer bothered me.