National Press Club

President Obama congratulates Beyer, winner of the National Press Club Spelling Bee

November 6, 2015 | By Julia M. Pyper | julia.pyper@gmail.com

President Barack Obama sends note to Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, winner of the 2015 National Press Club Spelling Bee.

President Barack Obama sends note to Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, winner of the 2015 National Press Club Spelling Bee.

Virginia Democrat Don Beyer took home the trophy at the National Press Club “Politicians vs. Press” Spelling Bee Oct. 21 that pitted seven mem­bers of Con­gress against eight members of the fourth estate.

Nearly 400 people packed into the Press Club ballroom for the event, which was sponsored by Discovery Communications. Attendees mumbled letters under their breath, gasped at fumbles and cheered at successes as contestants tackled words like “avun­cu­lar,” “ac­qui­esce,” and “Plant­a­gen­et.”

Beyer, who scored perfect on his SATs in high school, ultimately clinched his victory by correctly spelling the words “ver­mi­cide” and “apostasy.” The crowd gave him a standing ovation. His impressive performance caught the attention of the White House. On Nov. 2, Beyer tweeted he had received a letter from President Barack Obama congratulating him on his win.

“Congratulations on winning the NPC Spelling Bee! I always knew you were smart, but this is seriously impressive (I use spell check),” the president wrote.

“Thanks POTUS! My door is always open if your spell check ever breaks,” Beyer tweeted in response.

The NPC Spelling Bee dates back to 1913, when Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Frank Wil­lis of Ohio beat out journalists for the best speller title. NPC member Tom Hendrick produced a promotional video chronicling the 100-year-old event. A centennial spelling bee was held in 2013.

This year’s spelling bee brought together politicians from both chambers and both sides of the aisle with Beyer, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia; Sen. Jeffrey Flake, R-Arizona; Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California; Rep. Bradley Ashford, D-Nebraska; Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey; and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota.

The journalist team was made up of former NPC President Angela Greiling Keane of Bloomberg News, David Kerley of ABC News, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Rod Kuckro of E&E News, Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post, Ellyn Ferguson of CQ Roll Call and Nick Gass of Politico.

Kaine, the 2013 spelling bee winner, was eager to defend his title at this year’s event. But he was knocked out in the fourth round by adding one “t” too many in the word “Connecticuter.”

By the sixth round, Beyer was the only politician left remaining on stage against six journalists. Demirjian, a multimedia journalist at the Washington Post, very nearly brought home a win for the journalists, but failed to spell two words correctly in a row, which brought Beyer back into the competition.

Staff at the Scripps National Spelling Bee volunteered their time to make up the word list and judge the event. Jacques Bailly, who has served as the Spelling Bee’s official pronouncer for 13 years, served as moderator. Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, the winners of last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, were the bell ringers: clanging bells when a speller made a mistake.

The night of the spelling bee kicked off with a comedy show by Tim Young and ended with a performance by the 90s cover band White Ford Bronco.

A portion of the spelling bee proceeds was donated to the Journalism Institute. The lighthearted event also served as a platform to urge for the release of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezian, who has been detained in Iran since July 2014.

When Lieu realized he couldn’t spell the word “empleomania,” he instead chose to spell out “F-R-E-E- J-A-S-O-N.”

Several news outlets covered the event, including National Journal, Politico and Roll Call. Watch a full recap of the 2015 spelling bee here.