A Battle with Words: Spelling to Bring a Trophy Back Home

Daniel Morrison, Copy Editor


   S-E-N-I-O-R vs. S-E-N-I-O-R Spelling Bee—a title that so smoothly rolls off the tongue, reads as it looks, and is quite easy to spell too. The opposite went for the words chosen for the Bee, words that with their silent letters, archaic roots, and odd pronunciations spelled vastly different from their sound. But they did make great competition.  

   PPCHS’s Student Government Association (SGA) seniors visited Southwest Focal Point Community Center last Tuesday in an attempt to claim their first victory in five years for the title of City of Pembroke Pines Annual Seniors vs Seniors Spelling Bee 2023 Winners. “We might have missed a year during Covid, but I think this our seventh year [doing this],” says Focal Point Director, Jay Shechter. “We came up with the idea and Mr.Bayer agreed, so we’ve been doing seniors vs. seniors for like I said, about six, seven years.” 

   Our seniors’ opponents? Also seniors. However, quick-witted and competitive ones, all aged 65 years old or older and eager to keep their City of Pembroke Pines Annual Seniors vs. Seniors Spelling Bee trophy at “home”.

   The students dismounted not a school bus, but a City bus when they arrived at the community center. They were welcomed by two lines of senior citizens who declared they weren’t going down without a fight. “We still got it,” one said, pointing his finger at his skull. Senior Jags were given a tour around Focal Point, visiting the elderly as they carried out the multitude of activities offered by the center, from salsa and piano lessons to a game of Dominoes and 8-Ball Pool. To them, the senior center is a second home where they can see their friends and hang out daily like the young do.

   After the tour, both sets of seniors sat for lunch for an opportunity to mingle with one another. They filled their bellies with salad, bread, plantains, and a Cuban dish of chicken, rice, and cheese, and then prepared themselves for the spelling bee ahead. “The game plan really is to unlock our inner vast pools of knowledge and just spell these words—sound them out in our heads and just say what we think,” says SGA member and senior, Alexander Champagne. Another member and senior, Tyler Pujals, presents a rather different approach. “[The plan is to] get up there, spell some words right, and crush these old—have a great friendly competition with these wonderful people,” he jokes.

   However, the elders weren’t joking. With a number hung around the neck, a solemn face, and a confident stride, the first senior citizen took the stage to begin the bee. After, a charter senior and so on. Each side took turns grabbing the mic and spelling tricky words such as liaison (pronounced lee-ay-zaan with a silent ‘i’), burgeoning (bur-jun-ning), and precocious (pruh-kow-shuhs). 

   With each word spelled incorrectly, a collective sigh of dismay gently swayed the bee-colored balloons of black, yellow, and white that adorned the chairs of each contestant and even the electric wheelchair of one judge. Saddened, contestants took off their numbers and took to their seats. And when tough words were spelled correctly, the applause from the seniors and the audience shook the 1947 Model Ford lending the stage a dated feel. Depending on the side, a fist of our seniors would tear through the air or a simple, humble nod of approval would be directed to a fellow elder. 

   Eventually, the competition came down to the final four: Charter seniors Ana Hernandez and Laisha Laracuente, and last year’s winner, Ms. Lily, and another elder. A judge then opened an orange portfolio to introduce the advanced set of words. All the seniors went back and forth misspelling seemingly impossible words (a senior could only be disqualified if they spelled two words incorrectly and their opponent spelled one correctly).

   The spelling bee came down Ana vs. Ms. Lily. Ana’s word was penitentiary (peh-ni-ten-chr-ee) and Ms. Lily’s daiquiri (da-kr-ee). The seniors spelled out their words slowly and cautiously, occasionally drawing a sharp breath between each letter. And the judges paused for a moment, before letting out a dispiriting sigh. Ana was off by a mere two letters. Lily, on the other hand, spelled her word correctly. 

   The senior citizens yelped in triumph concluding 2023’s Senior vs. Senior Spelling Bee. Ms. Lily received $100 for first place and Ana $50 for second.

   Though a tough loss, “It was a great experience!” Ana recalls. “My favorite part was getting to know the seniors and having lunch with them was very nice. I plan on using the [$50] on gas for my car.” The director approved as well, not just of the Focal Point victory, but the experience shared between the two sets of seniors. “We think it’s a great event. You get into the moment, and my members love to watch—everyone likes to participate. And it [allows for] a little intergenerational programming.” Mr. Shechter says.

   Speaking of generations, Ms. Lily disclosed the strategy that landed her in the first place. “I was looking up spelling words and what I noticed was the “15 Most Difficult Spelling Words”. It helps. You want to go for the difficult ones,” she advises. It turns out the searching gave her a significant edge as some of the words appeared during the bee. “Other people got the words like “liaison” and “precocious”. “Daiquiri” scared the [heck] out of me. I was like, is there an ‘i’ in the middle or not. I kinda went for it because it sounded French, so I put that ‘i’ on in there and that did me right. You have to sound it out,” she says.

You young people, my older people; we’re just all people, we’re just all together, and I’m really happy we won and Mr. Bayer lost… We’re hopeful that you’ll come back and we’re hopeful we’ll have the same results. ”

— Southwest Focal Point Community Center Director, Jay Shechter

   Sounding it out and knowing the origin might just help SGA seniors take the win next year. However Shechter remains confident that Southwest Focal Point will reign supreme. “You young people, my older people; we’re just all people, we’re just all together, and I’m really happy we won and Mr. Bayer lost,” he says, with an assertive smile. “We’re hopeful that you’ll come back and we’re hopeful we’ll have the same results.” 

   V-I-C-T-O-R-Y—victory, another easy word to spell, but one the next “generation” of seniors will have to prove themselves to achieve.