Trading politics for sports, and power suits for uniforms, ESPN college sports reporter Kaylee Hartung previously worked in the CBS News Washington Bureau prior to joining the Longhorn Network in Austin, Texas. Hartung returns to the nation’s capital in her debut as the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee reporter, beginning today at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN3, and concluding Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN. SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry returns – after a four-year absence – to host with veteran analyst, Paul Loeffler, a 1990 Bee finalist.
Front Row discussed the assignment with Hartung:
How have you prepared for this assignment? Have you spoken with colleague and previous Bee reporter Samantha Ponder?
Sam Ponder is naturally hilarious and her advice was to work on my store of jokes appropriate for 8-15 year olds. Whether I’m interviewing an athlete, a politician or a child prodigy, it behooves me to make my subject comfortable as quickly as possible before the red light goes on. In this case, I need the corny jokes at the ready.
You’ve previously reported on politics and now cover college sports. How has working with politicians and athletes prepared you for interviewing tweens?
I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to interview people my own height. There aren’t many 5-foot-2 athletes out there.
Have you ever been in a spelling bee?
I’m already self-conscious that I work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports and I never actually played a sport. Now I’m reminded that I wasn’t a competitive speller, either. I’m now questioning every decision I ever made as a child when it came to extracurricular activities.
What do you think will be more suspenseful? The final few letters on the winning word of the Scripps National Spelling Bee or a bases-loaded, bottom of the ninth, Longhorn baseball comeback?
I’m always happy to cover a Texas win, but there is something special about the suspense the Spelling Bee provides. These young people make so many sacrifices, commit so much time, energy and effort to this singular goal. It is inspiring to see the commitment and discipline they are able to have at such a young age. So much of what I enjoy about covering college sports is the genuine flood of emotion you see after a win or loss. We know the Bee will not be lacking in that department.
What’s one word you always have trouble spelling correctly?
Massachusetts. I prefer the abbreviation.