2017 Spelling Bee Countdown: Word Wizards Help Bee Participants Compete

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Hiring professional spelling coaches is growing phenomenon among spelling bee participants.

FOLLOW THE FUN: 2017 CBS Bay Area Spelling Bee

They’re not just helping kids compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee but to get there in the first place.

Dave Riddle has coached students from his Monterey Peninsula home for the last four years.

He’s dressed as a “spelling wizard,” wearing a crown and star-studded cape as he phoned his student in New York.

High school freshman Meera Suresh of Santa Clara skypes with a 4th grader in Guam.

Both Riddle and Suresh are employed as personal spelling coaches with Texas-based Hexco Academic.

It is a growing trend: more students are hiring coaches to keep up with the stiff spelling competition.

Hexco started with three students in 2008. Today, it’s coaching more than 30.

Only a year ago, Suresh herself had a coach, hoping to win the CBS Bay Area Spelling Bee again and return to nationals. She didn’t make it, but now teaches what she’s learned as a first-year coach.

“It gives me the satisfaction of helping someone, knowing I was in that position,” she said.

Hexco says it’s coached on average one in five national finalists in the last few years.

Its clients have included one of last year’s co-winners and two past second place finishers.

Lessons aren’t cheap: it costs $2,100 for 8-one hour sessions. Each week, students learn word patterns and roots and get feedback from coaches like Riddle, who helped his son get to nationals years ago.

Today, Riddle gives tips to help students survive the super-competitive spell-off.

He pointed out the word, “houyhnhnm.”

“That’s an insanely difficult word to spell,” he explained. “Not only is it insanely difficult, it’s not even in the book that Scripps has relied on as the official book of the Scripps Spelling Bee.”

For the first time, Scripps is using the updated online version of the Merriam Webster unabridged dictionary and Dave says he’s compiled his own list of more than 3,000 of the new words.

“As I understand it, some of the words have crept up in some of the earlier bees across the country,” he noted.

The retired attorney understands what it’s like to be a contestant.

He has competed in dozens of adult spelling bees, and earned his share of trophies. He won the National Senior Spelling Bee in 2005. His wife glued pages of the dictionary to the ceiling above his computer in his honor.

And while most personal spelling coaches probably don’t have dictionary pages above their heads, many discover the same reward.

“Inspiring children to take on this challenge, there’s no words that can describe it,” he mused.

No words the coach can say or spell.

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