COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH)– One of Central Ohio’s own got to more than just witness the historic 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee– Jon Petz was hosting the action.
“I was the event host and conference emcee for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I think most people see the ESPN live broadcast, but in fact, there’s a full show inside the venue,” said Petz. “We’ve got a few thousand people there for opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies, all the finals, preliminaries. My job is to keep everyone less stressed. Keep them entertained. Keep everything moving along and be that source of information and credibility and continuity for the whole event.”
Petz got to see and feel what ESPN’s national broadcast couldn’t show everyone at home. The in-venue host says the room was “electric” as the finalist battled it out eventually resulting in the first ever eight-way tie!
“When we got down to eight final contestants, and they were in round 17, and they announced, ‘we’re going three more rounds and whoever is left standing, you’re champions,’ every word people are jumping and screaming– the people on the headsets, the cameramen, the camerawomen– everyone was pulling like, ‘we want everyone to win.’ Everyone in that room, including the competitors on stage, they were for each other. It was incredible like no other sporting event I’ve ever seen,” Petz explained.
All eight received the full winner’s freight of $50,000 in cash and a new, custom-designed trophy, because Scripps simply could not come up with words difficult enough to challenge them.
The gravity of what was going on evident on the faces of the parents and kids.
“You watch the parents faces and you can see them if they know a child misspells a word, they know, and they’re so smart with these things,” Petz said. “They have trained, they have coaches, their preparation is root words and origins and definitions, and they literally call them student-athletes, so from that standpoint and from seeing how the parents react to their athletes perform on stage is unique. And they cheer, but they are so emotionally connected to this competition. It’s neat. It’s an incredible experience.”
Petz says part of his job is to provide some relief to that.
“The parents have come up [saying], ‘thank you for that moment of stress release, thank you for allowing us to disconnect from the competition for just a moment or two and then come back to it,’ so it’s been really beneficial to them to especially,” he added.
There was plenty of concern after the bee ended in ties three years in a row, from 2014-2016, that the very best spellers might be too good for the bee. Scripps came up with a written tiebreaker test of both spelling and vocabulary, a solution no one was thrilled about. After two years in which the test wasn’t needed, bee officials decided it was too burdensome on the spellers and got rid of it.
The rules going into this year’s bee called for, at most, three co-champions. A contingency plan for even more winners was developed on the fly Thursday afternoon, after bee officials evaluated spellers’ performance in the early final rounds. It took 5½ hours to narrow the field from 50 kids to 16.
“It was exhausting,” Petz said. “I mean these are middle schoolers… there are elementary school kids, and we’re going to midnight [on] live television. What I do is keep the energy– that is my role, that is my job, that is my passion, but to keep everyone engaged and at that much emotion, adrenaline, and stress for that long was tough.”