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Spelling controversy

Unfair competition? That's what many are wondering about the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee after contest officials decreed that Jamaican students would be ineligible for this year's competition.

Officials of the spelling bee, held annually in the late spring, announced a new rule last May that has caused a mini-war of sorts with the Caribbean island country. The rule states that no sponsor can hold its final qualifying contest for the Scripps Howard bee before Feb. 1.

After discovering that the sponsor for Jamaica was holding its qualifying round the August before the competition, the Cincinnati-based media company adopted the rule, according to Paige Kimble, the director of the national spelling bee. She explained that the other 255 sponsors usually hold their events in late March and early April. "Since 1925," she added, "no sponsor has held their [spelling bee] in the summer."

In the two years since students from Jamaica began participating, one came in 8th place in 1997, and last year Jody-Anne Maxwell took the $10,000 grand prize, becoming the first non-U.S. citizen to win.

Ms. Kimble pointed out that the Jamaicans had 172 more days to prepare than did their peers. "We consider this an amateur event ... We don't want our students to train like Olympians."

But Maurice Thomson, the co-director of Phillips & Phillips Stationery Supplies, the sponsor for Jamaican students, said the students from the former British colony did not do anything extra. "They simply applied themselves."

He said that he sent a fax last August to Ms. Kimble saying that the company would comply with the new rule. But he said the only response he received was a revocation of the sponsorship.

Despite attempts by Phillips & Phillips to work with contest officials, Mr. Thomson maintains that Scripps Howard will not change its mind nor discuss it.

But Ms. Kimble said that bee officials are seeking other sponsors for the Jamaican students and to ensure that their program conforms with the rules for next year's spelling bee.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Vol. 18, Issue 20, Page 3

Published in Print: January 27, 1999, as Take Note

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