As Spellers Dwindle, the Stage Shrinks at National Spelling Bee

For its 82nd annual National Spelling Bee, E.W. Scripps again went with Hargrove to fashion a shrinking stage and handle security for weepy students.

By Walter Nicholls June 3, 2009, 12:48 PM EDT

Kavya Shivashankar, winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Photo: Mike B Photography

Scripps National Spelling Bee
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On May 29, Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Company wrapped-up its five-day 82nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, which returned to the Independence Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt. This year’s beethe largest everbrought together 293 regional spelling bee champions and their sponsors.

Continuing a 16-year tradition, Hargrove once again fabricated and installed the red and blue, 36- by 64-foot stage and columned side stage panels. As the number of participants dwindled throughout the competition, Hargrove, reduced the size of the stage accordingly. Security for the students, who may be in unfamiliar territory on a large stage, was squarely on the minds of both Scripps and Hargrove. “Sometimes when they spell a word wrong they start crying, get upset, and they run off the stage,” said Cynthia Hargrove, who has worked on the Bee for 16 years. “People are in place to try to get the students off as quickly as possible. We have railings in place and a handicap ramp so they don’t go down the stairs or the wrong way.” A small, private area was created behind the stage for Scripps staff members to console students.

ESPN designed the stage set and, with ABC, held exclusive live coverage rights for the finals on Thursday. Also part of the set this year were two 9- by 12-foot rear projection screens flanking each side of the stage. As each contestant approached the microphone, technicians projected his or her image, name, age, grade, and sponsor’s name on the screen.

In addition to the competition’s preliminary, semifinal, and final rounds, the week’s activities included a barbecue held Monday for 950 students and their families at the Pavillions of Turkey Run and an annual closing awards banquet and party Friday at the Grand Hyatt. The 1981 national champion, Paige P. Kimble, is the director of the Bee and has worked on the program since 1984. This year’s winner was 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, who took home $40,000 in cash and prizes. Her winning word: laodicean

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