It's state tournament time at the University of South Dakota, but the 11 competitors set to meet this Saturday won't be doing so on any sports field.
Instead, they'll be on the stage in Aalfs Auditorium showing off their knowledge of the English language in the South Dakota Scripps Spelling Bee.
This is the first time the university has sponsored the spelling bee, taking over the duties from the South Dakota Newspaper Association.
"When (SDNA) decided not to be the statewide sponsor, Scripps approached us," program assistant Cheryl Havermann said. "We thought it would be perfect with the philosophy of education for young people, so we took up the role of sponsorship."
USD had something of a trial run when it hosted one of five statewide regional spelling bees in the Muenster University Center on Feb. 18.
"It went very well. I was just amazed at what these kids can do," Havermann said. "The kids started out with a 50-word written test, and then moved right into the oral bee. I believe it went on 12 rounds."
Once the final word – "behemoth" – was spelled, scores were tallied and the awards were distributed.
The entire event was finished by 1 p.m., Havermann said.
"The oral bee goes right along. It doesn't really take too much time," she said.
The participants were culled from 40 schools across the state, which held their own spelling bees to determine who would take part in the regional bees.
"Each school was to send one winner from each fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade, so there should have been four winners from each school that got sent to each regional," Havermann said.
The 11 sixth- through eighth-graders who made the final cut will arrive at Aalfs Auditorium around 9:30 a.m. Saturday for pre-registration.
This will be followed by a 50-word written test at 10 a.m., and the oral bee at approximately 11 a.m.
The oral bee will go on as long as it has to, Havermann said.
"Immediately following the conclusion of the oral bee, we'll go right into an awards ceremony," she said. "We're trying to run our bee just as close as possible to the national be, so that the winner (has an idea) of what to expect there."
The words the students will be expect to spell are "pretty tough," she said.
"I was looking at the word pronouncer book that I was sent by Scripps," Havermann said. "I was just looking at the first level, and I thought, 'I can't even say half these words.'"
The first-place winner will receive a package from Scripps that includes an unabridged dictionary.
Runners-up also will receive prizes, including gift certificates from such local businesses are Dairy Queen and Bank of the West, Havermann said.
Additionally, the winner and a parent will be sent to the national bee, which takes place from May 28 through June 1 in Washington, D.C.
"It's quite a little stay they have," Havermann said. "There are planned activities, and I believe that while our test does not eliminate you from the oral competition, my understanding is that at nationals, their written test will eliminate you."
Of the 265 competitors who make it to nationals, about 80 will advance beyond the written test, she said.
The state competition already has generated a fair amount of interest as it draws closer.
"People have called asking if it's free to the public, can the public come, is it closed," Havermann said. "I think in recent years with the exposure it's gotten on ESPN, people are kind of like, 'Oh, this is cool.'"
The event is free, and Havermann encourages all interested persons to attend.
"It's a lot of fun to watch these kids," she said.