A Look at Where Kid Geniuses are Now
2002 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Pratyush Buddiga won on the correct spelling of the word “prospicience,” a noun which means “the act of looking forward.” In the decade-and-a-half since winning, Buddiga has moved on to an altogether different competitive circuit as a professional poker player. He picked up the sport while a student at Duke University, where he applied his adept memory and pattern recognition skills to excel at the card game.
In her second-grade spelling bee, Commonweal Company Manager Megan Pence got 5th place which was pretty damn good since she was sent home from school that very afternoon with strep throat and a double ear infection. Megan missed the word shrub (doubled the “b”). Jane Kim won. Of course.
Daniel Greenblatt, the 1984 champion whose winning word was “luge,” prefers to work behind the scenes nowadays. While his victory lap included a spell-off with Johnny Carson, it ultimately made him wary of the limelight. “It’s a wake-up call for people who think, ‘When I become rich and famous, my life will change, and it’s all going to be wonderful, and I’ll live like Kim Kardashian,’” he told Time Magazine. He is currently a software engineer who moonlights as a voice actor, where he does work for radio ads and video games.
Alan Bailey, director of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Commonweal, wishes he had a better story. All the times he did spelling bees, nothing remarkable happened. Words were pronounced and spelled and that was pretty much it.
The character of Mitch Mahoney, “comfort counselor,” is played by Eric Lee. Eric still has the Encyclopedia Britannica Atlas, his prize for 2nd place in the Iowa State Fair spelling bee. Why 2nd? In spelling “forehead,” he left out the first “e.”
He’s not a champion, but Srinivas Ayyagari placed third twice at the spelling bee. The second instance occurred in 1994 which also happened to be the first year ESPN broadcast the contest. In terms of mental athletics, however, Ayyagaris wasn’t quite finished. While in law school he would go on to win $27,400 in a Jeopardy! Teen Tournament in 2008. (“This will be a better highlight for you,” Alex Trebek supposedly told him.)
In our spelling bee, Hal Cropp plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch. Hal’s bee experience is as a parent watching his second grader bow out in the final round by spelling pancake, “P-A-N-K-A-K-E.
Abbie Cathcart plays the role of Marcy Park in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and was in the 3rd or 4th grade when she was in a spelling bee. She forgot it was happening, definitely didn’t study at all, and incorrectly spelled “fiercely.” It was not her best moment. And she definitely knows how to spell the word now.
“Vouchsafe” was Barrie Trinkle’s winning word in 1973, and while winners cannot compete in future competitive spelling bees, that doesn’t mean their enthusiasm for the sport diminishes. After the bee, Trinkle attended MIT, spent over a decade at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, worked as an editor at Amazon, and currently spends her time volunteering and freelance writing. Busy as she is, Trinkle still finds the time to watch — and live tweet — the National Spelling Bee.
Elizabeth Dunn is filling the role of Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She was a kid who frequently made it to school forgetting to put her shoes on…needless to say, she was never in a spelling bee.
Philip Muehe portrays Leaf Coneybear in Putnam County and competed in a spelling bee in 6th or 7th grade. English had always been a strong subject of Philip’s so he thought he had a pretty good chance, but the pressure of doing it in front of other people was different than doing school plays. He bombed out during the 2nd round but did manage to spell “Dystopia” correctly. Later, he got to miss class to watch the winners from all the classrooms compete to see who would represent his middle school and his best friend got in the top 3. So that was fun to watch!
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is production number two of our 30th Season of producing live professional theatre in Lanesboro. The musical romp begins previews on May 4th and officially opens May 12th. To purchase your tickets, look no further than this website.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre!—Jeremy