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National Spelling Bee abuzz over substance abuse allegations

TORONTO – The Canadian spelling bee circuit is once again under fire after allegations that one of its star participants has been under the influence of illegal performance enhancing substances.

Earlier this week, 12-year-old Gibson Everett from Squamish, B.C. promptly forfeited his 2011 National Spelling Bee championship when he failed several blood tests which showed high levels of omega-3s, ginkgo biloba and fish oil.

In a press release issued by lawyers representing the family, the Everetts maintained their son’s innocence.

“He is a good boy,” the statement read in part. “He has a God-given gift of being able to spell obscure, abstruse words in front of a large group of people. This is an infelicitous misapprehension. However, we want to respect our son’s decision to abrogate his championship.”

Gibson’s corporate sponsors quickly cancelled their contracts with the shamed speller following the news. Heinz has since pulled all of their Alphagetti soup ads featuring Gibson, and Post Foods has discontinued their Alpha-Bits cereal campaign starring Gibson on the front of the box.

“We felt that Gibson no longer represented our core values,” said a representative from Post Foods. “Our cereal contains all of the nutrients a young championship speller needs to win.”

Former Spelling Bee contestants speak out against substance abuse - The Beaverton
Image: The Beaverton with portions licenced by DepositPhotos.com / (from top to bottom) Monkey Business, Eduard Titov, Arvind Balaraman

Other spellers on the tournament circuit have voiced disapproval of Everett’s actions.

“I trained day-in, day-out, with a dictionary in each hand, to lose to a FISHjuicer!” said Janet Tridel, a 13-year-old participant who came in third place in Gibson’s competition. “I can’t believe I once shared my dictionary with [Gibson].”

While Spelling Bee officials are saying that they plan on implementing tougher controls to prevent future abuse of substances among their participants, this is not the first time controversy has dogged the Canadian Spelling Bee circuit.

In 2000, 11-year-old Sunita Parnesh from Laval, Quebec, was stripped of her National title following video evidence that her spelling bee coach and father had smuggled in pieces of raw halibut and salmon which they fed her during the competition’s intermission, a process commonly refered to as “fish oil juicing.”

Parnesh was considered a prodigy at the time, winning numerous provincial and national spelling bee titles. She has since been dubbed the “Ben Johnson of the spelling world.”

Since that now infamous incident, all spelling bee participants have been obligated to undergo mandatory testing for performance enhancers, stimulants, and memory boosters.

“There is tremendous pressure put onto the shoulders of these kids to perform well,” said Barbara Kole, Director of Spelling Bee of Canada. “Overzealous parents will go to great lengths to ensure that their children have an upper hand and succeed. We really have to work hard to clean up the league.”

“There was one incident in which a parent had given her 10-year-old child steroids, accidentally mixing up a dose that was meant for her other son, a 16-year-old who was playing baseball at the time,” Kole recounted.

During the competition, the child misspelled his first word and got so violently angry that he destroyed the stage and injured four other participants using his Oxford dictionary, which he later ripped in half in front of the judges.

For some participants, the stress of losing a championship due to substance abuse can become a life-long burden. As adults, these former child spelling stars (like Parnesh, now 22) find it difficult to adjust to a life that doesn’t revolve around grammar, spelling, and etymology.

“After they took away my spelling bee championship, it was all downhill. I dropped out of school, started shooting B-12 and snorting crushed Flintstones vitamins. At my lowest point, I nearly overdosed on Ginkgo [biloba]. I even tried entering the underground spelling bee circuit for a few months, but I had lost all motivation.”

Added Parnesh: “Can you spell my life is ruined?”

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