Behind The Scenes

‘What the H?’: ESPN copy editor looks back on her Bee experience — and missed word — fondly

(Hannah Worster/ESPN)
ESPN.com copy desk editor Amy Goldstein (Hannah Worster/ESPN)
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Amy Goldstein competing in the 1998 Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Credit: Mark Bowen)

Watching tonight’s 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship Finals (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) with particular interest and a unique perspective will be ESPN’s Amy Goldstein. A copy editor for ESPN Digital and ESPN the Magazine, Goldstein, at age 14, finished fourth nationally in the 1998 Bee, representing New York via Long Island.

Front Row caught up with Goldstein to discuss, among other things, her memories of 1998, what goes through contestants’ minds tonight and which athlete’s name poses the toughest spelling challenge.

What do you remember about your Spelling Bee experience from 1998?
My goal was to make it past Round 3, which was when the prior few Long Island spellers had missed. After I did that, ESPN took my picture and asked me a few questions. The next day, I spelled four words on ESPN and was eliminated on “aitch” – the spelling of the letter H. I’m happy that the word that eliminated me was one I hadn’t studied. It sort of made me famous for a little while. People were saying “Wow, you misspelled a letter!”

When you’re watching tonight, what’s going to go through your mind? Any advice for contestants?
I’ll be watching with my neighbor, who actually competed in the Bee four years before I did. I’ll definitely be playing along, spelling out the words in my head. As for tonight’s contestants, there’s so much more pressure on them now than there was when I competed. I would just remind them they’ve all done great already, no matter where they ultimately finish, and they’re going to accomplish great things in life.

Even with your spelling expertise, which athlete’s name poses the toughest challenge in the course of your job?
My spelling background [editor’s note: Amy studied Linguistics in college] definitely helps me in my role here at ESPN, but of all the names out there, I have to go with Thai boxer Pongsaklek Wonjongkam as the toughest.

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