| [Photo: Carlo Allegri, National Post
Shanana Visuvanathan pauses to think about it for a few seconds at the 15th annual Spelling Bee of Canada at Metro Hall.
Spelling bees have never been more popular than they are now -- at least in part because Spellbound, the documentary that premiered at last year's Toronto filmfest, garnered an Academy Award nomination for best documentary and is now showing at the Cumberland.
So yesterday I headed to the finals of the 15th annual Spelling Bee of Canada at Metro Hall.
On my arrival, I see a pretty girl and her mother sitting on the steps, looking none too happy. It seems she came second in her bee in Hamilton and was erroneously told to come to Toronto for the finals. Once here, the organizers tell her this is for first-place winners only. The girl is devastated. I can see right off that these bees are tough business.
Julie Spence, the founder and president of the bee, is dressed in her yellow and black bee outfit (that is, a black suit and yellow blouse). She tells me of her hopes of expanding the competition to every province in Canada.
"I just love spelling," she says, "It's so important."
She's not the only one. The room is jammed with nervous-looking spellers and their even more nervous-looking parents.
While we wait for the competition to start, I talk to 13-year-old Christopher Massucci, a Grade 8 student from Maple, Ont., who ranked first in Vaughan in the senior division. (When I point out that his name is listed as "Masuccitti" in the program, he says, "Yeah, they spelled it wrong.")
Being a pretty good speller myself, I ask Christopher to try me out on a few of the more challenging words in his category.
"OK, 'chromosome,' " he says.
" 'Chromosome,' that's too easy," I tell him, rolling my eyes. I get it right. No problem. "Give me another?" I challenge him.
Next he gives me a word that sounds to my ears like "onomonopio." I try to puzzle it out phonetically. "Onomonopio."
"Is that correct?" I ask.
"I don't know," he admits.
"What does it mean?"
"It has something to do with poetry," he tells me. (Later I figure out he must have meant "onomatopoeia.")
I ask him how he got to be such a good speller? "I read all the time -- mostly action, mystery and adventure."
He then points out today's prizes. First prize in each category is a humongous (is that spelled correctly?) trophy, a computer, an Oxford dictionary, books, cash and more.
The senior competition gets underway, and indeed there are some tricky words: dactylology, bonsai, paranoia, analgesia, hackneyed.
Christopher correctly spells "idolize," "angular" and "canopy." But he misses "druid."
After 22 rounds, the final tie-breaking words are "euphony" and "aghast." The winner is Duluxan Sritharan. Jeffrey Lavellee, 7, wins in the primary category, and Ashwin Baskaran, 9, wins in the junior group. The intermediate winner, which goes an amazing 49 rounds, is Kiruthihla Vimalakanthan, 11.
I just hope I spelled those winning names correctly.