Can-do attitudes carry local spellers to bee

In a couple of weeks, The Times Leader will host one of its biggest events of the year — the Belmont County Spelling Bee.

Scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Ohio University Eastern, the annual bee provides an opportunity for nearly 20 local middle school students to compete for the title of county spelling champion. But the winner will gain much more than the prestige of capturing the championship.

The winners of bees held in each district in the county will face off against one another that evening. The student who prevails will win an all expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete once more – this time in the Scripps National Spelling Bee held in May. There, the winning student will meet and challenge the best spellers in the country.

Each year, our local winner returns from that trip to the nation’s capital feeling a little wiser and knowing much more about the challenges of trying to be the best. They always seem to enjoy seeing the sights of the D.C. area with the family members who accompany them, and they invariably are impressed with the skill and dedication they witness in other students taking part in the national bee.

Each and every one of our local competitors works hard in the weeks leading up to their individual district bees, and then they double down and try even harder to prepare for the county bee. In addition to the trip to Washington, the county winner will receive a $500 cash prize, a first-place trophy, a Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online Certificate, the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a plaque with the two winning words inscribed for school display, a traveling trophy for school display and a one-year subscription to Britannica Online Premium.

The runner-up, in addition to being the alternate for the D.C. trip, receives $250 cash, the second-place trophy and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition).

The third-place finisher gets $150 cash and the third-place Trophy (compliments of Jenkins Sporting Goods in St. Clairsville). The student who finishes fourth receives a $100 cash prize and the fourth-place trophy.

Meanwhile, the student who designed the artwork for the cover of the bee program gets a $50 cash prize and a plaque.

All finalists finishing in places 5-18 will receive a certificate to be redeemed for a $50 cash prize, compliments of Belmont Savings Bank.

All contestants receive medals, ribbons and certificates as well.

The first-place award is quite a prize package for a young middle school student to enjoy — and, without a doubt, the winner deserves those rewards for their dedicated efforts.

The day before the bee, Feb. 6, we will publish a program for the event and include it in the newspapers that are delivered to all of you. We hope you will take time to look through that guide and see which local students will attempt to capture the county title. If you happen to know any of the competitors, wish them luck as they prepare for the big day. And if you know any of the adult educators who help to make these events possible, thank them for their hard work.

As we look forward to the upcoming bee, I would like to thank the sponsors who assist The Times Leader in making this opportunity available to local students. Belmont Savings Bank is our major sponsor. Other sponsors include AAA, Airport Limousine, the East Central Ohio Education Service Center, Ohio University Eastern, The Health Plan and Uniglobe Ohio Valley Travel.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those sponsors. The students and we at The Times Leader appreciate all of you for your support. We couldn’t do this without you.

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As I have watched these students and organizers prepare for this bee, I have seen them all exhibit a can-do attitude. That makes me wonder why, in so many other aspects of life, the answer all too frequently seems to be “I can’t.”

I’ve recently had several experiences that have proven frustrating, mainly because the ideas that the customer is always right and that nearly any problem can be solved one way or another seem to have fallen by the wayside.

I won’t bore you with too many details, but as one example I will tell you that I literally had to take an entire day off from work in order to get a pair of tires installed on one of our cars.

That endeavor started out as you would expect. I drove the car to the shop, told the cashier I wanted to purchase three tires (we recently had replaced one due to a defect and wanted to upgrade the rest to match). I was told my order could be fulfilled, so I walked to a nearby restaurant to have a sandwich while I waited.

When I returned, I was told I could buy two tires or four, but not three. Concerns about matching the tread of the tire we already had seemed understandable, so I opted to buy just a pair that day. But the problems were just beginning. Next, the mechanic rejected the job because a couple of lug nuts on one wheel were worn. We solved that problem by having my husband come to the shop and remove the nuts himself.

By then, the cashier had taken me off the waiting list and we were told it was too late to have the tires installed that day — even though the shop was scheduled to remain open for another two hours. At every turn, it seemed we heard the answer, “I can’t.”

Another nearby shop was more accommodating, and we did manage to get the tires installed that day. But that simple task took me more than seven hours to complete because of all the obstacles I encountered.

In several other recent endeavors, I have heard the answer, “I can’t.” Clerks can’t make the right change, or they can’t provide the product or services advertised. In one instance, three different locations said they couldn’t ship a small package for me, because the shipping information had been provided in the form of a QR code. They said they didn’t have the equipment to read that electronic symbol, and when I offered to scan it with my phone and provide the details, they all said, “I can’t do it that way.”

I hope that this is not a trend that will continue into the long-term future. America has been defined by its citizens’ can-do attitude for centuries. What if our soldiers had said, “I can’t defeat Hitler,” or if American entrepreneurs had said “I can’t” when face with problems to solve or products or processes to invent?

Let’s look to young people like our spelling bee participants and try to change that attitude. Support them in their endeavors and believe that they — and we — can do whatever we set our minds to.