Did you know that when the 71st Scripps National Spelling Bee was held in Washington, D.C. on May 27-28, 1998 the champion was 12-year-old Jody-Anne Maxwell, from Kingston, Jamaica, where she attended Ardenne High School?
With precise diction flavored by her lilting accent, spelled ”chiaroscurist” before a packed hall in Washington, becoming the Bee’s first foreign champion in the 71 years of Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition. She defeated 248 other finalists, including a handful from the Bahamas and Mexico, the only other foreign nations represented.
Second-place went to 12-year-old Prem Murthy Trivedi of New Jersey, a four-time participant, who also finished second the prior year. Third place finisher was 13-year-old Hirsh Sandesara of Northbrook, Illinois.
There were 249 spellers that year and eighty-six spellers survived day one of the competition.
The first-place prize was $10,000, among other prizes
Jamaica had a new hero in the person of a 12-year-old girl from Kingston with a winsome smile and steely determination whose David vs. Goliath victory at the National Spelling Bee fascinated Jamaicans both on the island and in the large immigrant community in New York City.
In Jamaica, Jody-Anne’s victory made her a national heroine and in the Jamaica-New York Community she was feted like a rock star.
Currently Jody-Anne Maxwell is a licensed attorney-at-law.
Did you know spellers from Jamaica have been competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for 20 years?
Did you know a chiaroscurist is a painter who uses light and shade rather than color to create the illusion of volume?
Did you know after Jody Anne Maxwell won the Spelling Bee Competition in 1998, the National Spelling Bee created some sort of international scandal? In 1999, Jamaica was banned from the National Spelling Bee and the reigning champion, the contest’s first foreign winner was furious.
Jamaica was disqualified from the Bee under a new rule that qualifying bees could not occur before February 1. This occurred after complaints that Maxwell had had too much time to prepare, because Jamaica’s qualifying bee was over eight months before the National Bee.
Jamaicans cried foul, even Rev. Jesse Jackson’s group protested. “I think it is sour grapes because a Jamaican won,” said Jamaican-born Flatbush City Councilwoman Una Clarke, “We see this as an affront to us, our integrity and our ability.
The 1998 champion said she was upset by the dispute. “I am really disappointed,” said Jody-Anne, “but I guess it is their contest so they can change the rules.”
According to Irwine Clare of Caribbean Immigrant Services in Queens: “It’s like a kid playing with marbles, if you’re getting beat, you take your marbles and go home. Uncle Sam changed the rules.”
An article published in the Chicago Tribune on March 17, 1999, by Clarence Page was entitled “Penalized for Being Well-prepared.”
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]