Spelling bees and potholes

With the start of spring not that far away comes the annual academic competition season for area students.

And that means what has become one of the region’s top academic events, the Herald-Star, Jefferson-Harrison County Regional Spelling Bee, will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Buckeye North Elementary School.

This year’s bee will feature 48 participants from each of the area’s school districts – Indian Creek, Edison, Buckeye Local, Steubenville, Toronto and Harrison Hills – plus one speller representing the Ohio Virtual Academy.

The winner will win an expenses-paid trip to Bee Week and the right to represent our area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, plus other prizes. The 87th edition of that bee will be held May 25 through May 31 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. The remainder of the top 10 will each receive a trophy and various prizes, and all participants in the regional bee will receive at least a $25 gift card.

The bee will feature some serious competition. Each of the participants will have survived room, building and district spell-offs just to earn a spot in the regional bee. They will, along the way, have encountered some interesting words.

For example, the word “feng shui,” which is the Chinese art of positioning objects, such as furniture, to achieve a harmonious balance, was the winning word at this year’s Edison Local and Steubenville City bees. Other winning words from area district bees were “vanilla” (Harrison Hills), “belladonna” (Buckeye Local), “pueblo” (Indian Creek) and “bungalow” (Toronto City.)

The winner of that Toronto bee, eighth-grader Nathan Keenan, will be seeking to repeat as regional champion. Keenan won last year’s regional bee when he correctly spelled “segue.”

You’ll have the chance to learn more about this year’s participants in a special section that will be included with Friday’s edition.

The Herald-Star once again is presenting the annual event, just as it has every year since 1985. Jimmy Yoo, a pupil in the Steubenville City School District, was the first winner.

We’re able to continue that tradition thanks to the help of Eastern Gateway Community College, the Steubenville Rotary Club, Huntington Bank, Uniglobe Ohio Valley Travel and Amtrak, as well as the Ohio Lottery, which has covered the entry fees for each of the schools around the state. Of course, the bee program runs very smoothly each year thanks to the efforts of the Jefferson County Educational Service Center, which handles the nuts-and-bolts of the competition.

Academic competitions help to instill valuable skills, including hard work and discipline and a desire to learn and to succeed, values that will take on greater importance as the pupils advance through high school, college and eventually enter the work force.

If you need a reminder about how important education and those values are, consider that a report issued a few weeks ago by the National Science Foundation revealed that only 74 percent of Americans know that the Earth revolves around the sun.

Looking for another example? Groupon, the online purveyor of coupons and deals, said it planned to mark Presidents Day by honoring that star of the $10 bill, President Alexander Hamilton. There’s a problem with that – Hamilton was indeed our nation’s first treasury secretary, but he never was elected president. Neither was Benjamin Franklin, whose name is often mentioned when Americans are asked to name their favorite president.

The pupils who will take part in this year’s bee have been willing to invest countless hours in preparation and study for Saturday’s event. We hope you will support them.

We’re putting a fresh look on our promotion of the April 3 appearance by Capt. Richard Phillips as part of the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series.

Phillips, the Merchant Mariner whose cargo ship was captured by Somali pirates and who was held hostage for nearly five days in April 2009, will speak at 7:30 p.m. that day in the Steubenville High School auditorium.

He has shared his story in the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea,” which was the inspiration for the award-winning film “Captain Phillips.”

During the next several weeks, we will be posting a series of video previews leading up to the appearance, including information about the ship Phillips was the captain of at the time of the hijacking, the Maersk Alabama, a review of the book and other information about Phillips, the book and the film.

You’ll be able to access the previews by clicking on the speaker series logo on our homepage at heraldstaronline.com and following the links.

And finally despite what my boss, Publisher Alex Marshall, may think, we in the newsroom do understand deadlines and how vital their importance is to getting the newspaper out on time.

In order to meet those deadlines, we have to prepare many pages in advance of when a particular edition is printed. Included among those are the editorial and opinion pages.

That’s why last week’s mention of the work needed to repair potholes that have opened up and Steubenville’s Lovers Lane might have seemed a little dated when Sunday morning rolled around.

Those words were written before city crews spent Saturday afternoon patching some of the worst holes. Kudos are due the city officials for having the work done and the workers who put in Saturday duty to help make trips along that well-traveled road just a little less bumpy.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)