National Spelling Bee canceled for first time since 1945

World War II caused the previous cancellation

Students fill the stage during the second round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center May 28, 2019 in National Harbor, Maryland. Students from across the country and around the world compete in the spelling competition, which started in 1925. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Students fill the stage during the second round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center May 28, 2019 in National Harbor, Maryland. Students from across the country and around the world compete in the spelling competition, which started in 1925. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (2019 Getty Images)

There will be no fidgeting at the National Spelling Bee microphone, no banter with pronouncer Jacques Bailly, no pointed questions about definitions or languages of origin, no dreaded bell that signals a misspelled word.

This year's Scripps National Spelling Bee was canceled Tuesday, the latest beloved public event to be scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bee will return next year, Scripps said, but that's little comfort to the eighth-graders who are missing out on their last shot at the national stage. Scripps will not change eligibility requirements for the next bee, which is scheduled for June 1-3, 2021. The bee, which began in 1925 and was last canceled from 1943-45 because of World War II, has always been restricted to elementary and middle-schoolers.

“I'm totally shattered and devastated,” said 14-year-old Navneeth Murali of Edison, New Jersey, who would have been among the favorites at this year's bee. “Spelling has basically been my life for so many years. ... I put all my effort into the chance of winning Scripps, and this morning I found out it was all gone.”

Navneeth's father, Murali Samu, and other parents of eighth-graders said Scripps should find a way to allow them to compete, either by holding a smaller, invitation-only bee this year or by letting select ninth-graders return in 2021.

Scripps has no such plans, at least for now.

“My heart goes out to every one of those kids affected. As a former speller, all I can say is I can only imagine, and my heart breaks for them,” said Paige Kimble, the bee's longtime executive director and the 1981 champion. “Our eighth-grade spellers are much like the class of 2020 high school seniors, in the ranks of many enduring heartbreak as a result of these pandemic circumstances.”

Scripps had announced last month that the bee would not be held as scheduled the week of May 24 at its longtime venue, a convention center outside Washington. Hundreds of kids compete every year in the national finals, which are televised by ESPN, and Scripps was aiming this year for a field of around 400.