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Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Updated: June 2, 12:33 PM ET
Page 2's roto-spellers

By Dan Shanoff
Page 2

Ever wonder what your faithful Page 2 staff does during the afternoon, after we've put our page to bed (c'mon, it's a journalism term!) each day?

Sure, we usually take a quick break to grab a snack or a sandwich. But then it's back to the grind, slaving away so we can continue to bring you the most serious sports commentary on the Web.

But ... Tuesday afternoon, our task was even more serious than usual. At 2 p.m. ET, we held a top-secret meeting in Bristol, with a select few people joining us via conference call. Why, you ask?

MORE SPELLING BEE MADNESS
Here's Darren Rovell's guide to picking the Spelling Bee winner, and Sportoon's take on the competition.
To conduct our First Annual Spelling Bee Fantasy Draft.

That's right. Today marks the start of the 78th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee – a true American treasure. And in the pioneering spirit of Page 2, we resolved to bring you the most innovative coverage.

Without Mel Kiper Jr. to guide us in the process, 10 Page 2 GMs each picked five spellers for their fantasy rosters, with the winning team to come from the best total performance. Each GM took a unique approach to the draft – utilizing factors such as "ex-bee-rience" and geography, along with martial arts knowledge, Lego robotics engineering skills and "Lord of the Rings" trivia knowledge.

Results from a "Bee Combine" – (for example: "40-Yard Dash To Escape the Bully") – would have been helpful, if one were actually held.

As it turns out, Alex Smith versus Aaron Rodgers has nothing on "public school" versus "homeschool," truly the fiercest debate on the bee circuit.

With that in mind, and as time on the clock wound down, I avoided Vikings-like draft infamy by making the first overall pick of the draft with just seconds to spare: Samir Sudhir Patel of the Patel Achievement Academy (Colleyville, Texas), which apparently combines the best of homeschooling and optimism.

My reasoning: "He finished third in his 2003 debut, then plummeted to 27th in 2004. He has the experience, but also understands where he went so very wrong last year."

When Eric Neel chose Chelsey Ann Bipat from The Bahamas, it was because – as he explained – "I want to be invited to the victory party there."

Neel clearly had studied up. His selection of another erudite speller came after a perusal of the biographies at spellingbee.com turned up this nugget (embellished only a little by Eric): "On his own, he conducted a research study of more than 6,000 dialects . . . before dinner."

As the draft progressed, questions emerged:

  • "Why do you think so many competitors have learned some form of martial arts? Is it discipline ... or self-preservation?"

  • "Wouldn't it be ironic if our national champion was the speller from New Zealand?"

  • "Do they trash talk by name or by number?"

    By the time the dust settled, 50 spellers had been drafted, with more than 200 others left as undrafted free agents.

    Here's a look at the draft rosters. Follow along, or find your own speller to root for. And remember to watch on Thursday (10 to noon, and 1 to 3:30 p.m., ET) as ESPN televises all the drama.

    GM No. 1: Dan Shanoff
    Roster: Samir Sudhir Patel (Speller No. 238); Marshall Kelly Winchester (172); Rajiv Tarigopula (139); David J. Ring (104); Heather Elizabeth van Stolk (230)

    Draft Strategy: "My first three picks were all based on previous Bee experience. My last two picks are both halves of a twin; I figured one might have a psychic patch with their twin, who can feed them answers from a dictionary at home. Meanwhile, somewhere, there's a group of SABR practitioners crunching the available data and figuring out that there is actually a way to quantify contestant chances based on hometown, hobbies and level of parents' overbearing."

    GM No. 2: John Marvel
    Roster: Maithreyi Gopalakrishnan (36); Tia Natasha Elizabeth-Thomas (12); Kimberly Rachel Campbell Olson (45); David Palm (196); Forrest A. Brazeal (126)

    Draft Strategy: "Very simple ... I went with homeschoolers and long names that I can't pronounce, let along spell. And don't forget the formidable 'Tia Carrere-Homeschool-Hyphenated Last Name' strategy!"

    GM No. 3: Darren Rovell
    Roster: Nektarios Vasilottos (85); Stacia Christine Firebaugh (84); John L. T. Tamplin (97); Joseph S. Shepherd (59); Ronnie Cowsert (44)

    Draft Strategy: (See Darren's complete "Guide to Picking a Winner.")

    GM No. 4: Kieran Darcy
    Roster: Jacob Matthew Hubbard (251); Zachary D. Gillooly (153); Sharon Catigbac Mores Daugherty (53); Elizabeth Ann Pisaniello (169); J. Reed Lawson (177)

    Draft Strategy: "I'm a sportswriter. Sports are what I know best. So I decided to simply look for the best athletes available – just like general managers and other talent evaluators often do. Look, all these kids can spell. But how many have the strength and stamina gained only on the field of athletic competition? Thus I ended up with warriors like Hubbard, a red belt in Tae Kwon Do, and Lawson, who has traveled to Japan to give martial arts demonstrations. Daughery has performed in a professional hula dancing troupe for five years and is a four-year member of her county's gymnastics team. And then I went with a couple wild cards. Gillooly – in case he's related to Jeff, because then the fix might be in. And Pisaniello, who doesn't appear to have any kind of athletic background – but she has developed her own language, Islorien, which has over 900 words and is spoken by her friends and family. If this competition ends up being in Islorien, I can't lose!"

    GM No. 5: Michael Knisley
    Roster: Katie L. Brown (54); Abraham H. Lee (67); Laura Ann Brown (1); Ben Brown (157); Lauren Ashley Bradshaw (178)

    Draft Strategy: "Seems like a good week to see what Brown can do for me. Larry gets the big job in the Cavs' front office. Mike gets to coach LeBron. So I took three of 'em: Katie, Laura Ann and Ben. Then there's Laura Ashley Bradshaw. I figure she can spell 'cat' even if I don't have to spot her the 'c' and the 't' ... unlike that other Bradshaw ... if you know what I mean, and I think you do."

    GM No. 6: Jeff Merron
    Roster: Charlotte J. Roose (170); Dheena Marie Ebuen Elayda (60); Lindeon Sherlock Davis (249); Mercy Parungo (4); Nicole Mae San Mateo Mercado (100)

    Draft Strategy: "I'm going global, like MLB, the NBA and the NHL. My biographer calls my method "Moneybee," which is a little misleading, but it works OK. Here's how it goes: search the far corners of the planet to get the most talent for the fewest dollars. Look for value. Where's value? Where nobody else is looking! So, I've got talent from New Zealand, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Samoa, and Louisiana, an up-and-coming domestic hotbed of spelling. (Have you noticed that even the kindergarteners in the Sportsman's Paradise can spell "Louisiana?" That's almost as impressive as all those kids in France, who – if you ever go there, you'll notice – speak fluent French.) Finally, a sentimental note: I also chose Nicole Mae San Mateo Mercado just because she's got a great name – the best in the tourney."

    GM No. 7: Kurt Snibbe
    Roster: Nitish Lakhanpal (16); Kyle Louis Rogacion (15); Jacob Allen DeVine (130); Saryn Rebecca Hooks (179); Yiping Wang (265)

    Draft Strategy: "My current stable of spellers may look like a quick-pick printout for the SuperLotto, but if I were to reveal the science behind my picks I could lose my edge in my six upcoming roto/spell drafts. What I can tell you is the key to becoming an orthographic phenom is in the heart. I don't care if you eat dictionaries for breakfast, the desire to win has to be strong within, like the "me" in "domenation." You take away the "me," and all you have is Do Nation, and nobody wants that."

    GM No. 8: David Schoenfield
    Roster: Dovie Eisner (47); Evan Zachary Lawler (24); Elliott P. Orr (122); Ike U. Elele (109); Daniel P. Chacko (246)

    Draft Strategy: "Strategy? Just like poker, Scrabble and trying to outthink Dusty Baker, strategy is overrated. Just pick names you like. Dovie Eisner? A no-brainer; I'm a good company man. Ike U. Elele? Rolls off the tongue with the sweetness of an ice cream cone at a summer fair. Evan Zachary Lawler? You gotta love the confidence of a kid who goes by three names. Only thing better would be a speller with one name, like a Brazilian soccer star, or one with four, like last year's champ, David Scott Pilarski Tidmarsh. No wonder he won.

    GM No. 9: Eric Neel
    Roster: Chelsey Ann Bipat (8); Edwin Ho (26); Calvin O. Lau (43); Isaac P. Kurth (92); William Waitman Weitzel (79)

    Draft Strategy: "My strategy was simple: I went with spellers whose names called out to me. In a dream. While I was sleeping off what I swear was my first experiment with peyote."

    GM No. 10: Kevin Jackson
    Roster: Joshua Tyson Tenhet (9); Andrew Lokomaikai'keakue Kaleohano (264); Daniel Benjamin Snyder (134); Nicholas J. Marcucci (38); Sue Ann P. Yap (144)

    Draft Strategy: "Employed a nonsensical, wide-sweeping strategy that was difficult to rationalize or follow. Top pick Tenhet was selected out of apathy for anyone who has to live in Bakersfield, Calif. No. 2 pick Andrew Lokomaikai'keakue Kaleohano owns the longest name in the competition. Third choice Daniel Snyder can hire and fire anyone in the field, plus he owns a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. No. 4 choice Nicholas Marcucci shares a surname and a home state with one of ESPN.com's top copy editors. Final pick Sue Ann P. Yap is sure to be a member of the Bee's All-Chris Berman Team.

    *****

    It's not too late to create your own office Spelling Bee Fantasy Draft. See the Bee Web site for a roster of names and numbers, and find your own winning system. And remember to watch the Bee on ESPN, Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon ET, then 1-3:30 p.m. ET.

    Dan Shanoff is a columnist for Page 2. His "Daily Quickie" commentary appears every weekday morning.