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James F. Sweeney's Spelling Bee Confession

I was and am a good speller. I mention this only because it amplifies the egregious occasion on which I deliberately misspelled a word during a spelling bee.

St. Columbkille was a small parish school taught by the Ursuline Nuns. There were 4 classrooms and an auditorium on the second floor.

Grades l and 2 were combined as were grades 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and 7 and 8. The Sister who taught grades 7 and 8 also served as the Principal of the School. While one grade received instruction the other did "desk work." Consequently, we heard every class lecture twice.

We knew only that St. Columbkille was an Irish Saint. Many of the students pronounced his name as "St. Comical" and I am afraid that many could not spell his name.

Every month or so the 7th and 8th grade class would have a Spelling Bee which pitted the boys against the girls. We would line up on opposite sides of the classroom as if to do a square dance.

Sister would carefully enunciate one of the words which we had studied, and the first boy would repeat the word and then attempt to spell it. If he failed to do so he would sit down with a sigh of relief.

If he spelled it correctly he would look surprised and remain standing. The boys and girls would alternate.

Generally the girls were better spellers than were the boys. I was the exception because I found spelling to be interesting and fun.

The Spelling Bee began at approximately l0:00 AM and by l0:30 AM I was the only boy still standing. The sole girl remaining was a very studious and pleasant young lady name Jean Campbell.

We both had spelled numerous words without a miss and it seemed to me that Sister should declare a tie. Whatever support I had from my seated compatriots vanished when Sister kept us going through recess.

The students from other classes were looking in our window in puzzlement as Jean and I mechanically spelled word after word correctly.

It was clear to me that neither of us was going to misspell a word, and that Sister wanted a winner and not a tie. It was approaching the lunch hour and the murmur in the classroom was becoming more audible.

It was then that I decided to end the standoff; deliberately misspelling a word. Everyone knew the rule "I before E except after C.", but many had trouble applying it. Sure enough Sister provided me with "Receive".

I feigned a look of consternation and spelled R-E-C-I-E-V-E. Jean then spelled it correctly. Sister had a winner and the class was spared any further tedium.

When I misspelled the final word Jean looked puzzled, but then realized what I had done and smiled in complicity.

Confession is good for the soul.

If this was wrong, it was certainly a victimless crime.

Jean became an Ursuline Nun. I wonder if she held boys versus girls spelling Bees.

James F. Sweeney
St. Columbkille School
Class of l946

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