You see the spellers on the stage at Scripps National Spelling Bee, but there’s a critical player in the competition who you hear more than see.
Dr. Jacques Bailly is the Bee’s official pronouncer, and to the spellers, he’s a celebrity.
Participants lined up to meet the man many saw in the movie, Akeelah and the Bee, and who records the words many of them have studied.
“It's really kind of an honor that they all come here, and they think I’m, you know, somebody famous and interesting to meet,” says Dr. Bailly. “We're here to honor them.”
Dr. Bailly has a keen understanding of what the spellers are going through.
He won the Bee in 1980 and has some tips for spellers taking the stage.
“The way to spell a word you don't know: you spell it the way it sounds,” he advises. “Don't make a fancy guess. Don't assume there's a silent ‘Q’ because there aren't very many of those you know just felt the way it sounds. That's kind of the best guess.”
His advice for beating the jitters?
“I think a deep breath is one of the best things,” he says. “It's just, you know, to feel free, to get up there and go. Because it's amazing how that helps.”
He believes competing in the National Spelling Bee opens doors for spellers to worlds they’ve never seen before at a critical age.
“Doors to chemistry, doors to concert instruments, doors to culture of any sort,” he says. “It's the words that describe our world.”
Dr. Bailly finds satisfaction in spelling, as well as sharing his passion with the next generation.
“I just love doing this,” he says.