Features

No spelling on Sunday

Human Race | Championship bee prospects are no match for Sabbath observance

Issue: "Tortilla wars," March 10, 2007

Christians in Indiana are drawing parallels between spelling champ Elliot Huck, 14, and Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner who refused to compete on Sundays, and whose story is told in the movie Chariots of Fire. Elliot, who advanced to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2005 and 2006, will not compete this year, his last year of eligibility. That's because the Herald-Times, the newspaper sponsoring Bloomington's regional feed-in bee, scheduled the contest on a Sunday.

Elliot, on his own, decided he would not compete: God commands Christians to keep the Sabbath holy, he said. "If I make exceptions to following God's rule, even if it is only once, there will be more exceptions that will follow," he said.

In past years, the Herald-Times held the Bloomington bee on a Saturday. But publisher E. Mayer Malone Jr. said that this year, Sunday, March 4, was the only date that fit "several considerations." Though several citizens offered to help overcome obstacles related to venue (the public library) and filming logistics so that Elliot could compete, Maloney refused.

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An eighth-grader missing a spelling bee might be a small thing but for Elliot's Herculean effort. As a little guy, Elliot was such a good speller that his friends nicknamed him Spelliot. In fifth grade, he learned to spell more than 26,000 words for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In 2005, he won the Bloomington bee and went to the Scripps contest in Washington, D.C., but failed to pass the written test, which includes words like rijsttafel, (an elaborate Indonesian meal). In 2006, he advanced to nationals again and passed the written test. But this time, he went down in the "lawnmower round," whose murderous word list is designed to chop the remaining 90-kid field in half before the televised rounds on ESPN.

That year, the cutoff was 44 spellers. Elliot was 45th.

As time wound down to this year's Bloomington bee, Elliot and his family were at peace with the idea that, short of, say, a divinely ordained ice-storm closing the library, Elliot's spelling career is over. Joyce Huck, Elliot's mother, said that the Herald-Times had been "generous sponsors" during the family's two previous trips to the Scripps bee. She doesn't see the newspaper's intransigence as religious discrimination so much as simple thoughtlessness: "They figure a lot of things happen on Sundays and who cares?"

Elliot is disappointed but certain he made the right decision. He also hopes people understand the big picture: "My chief purpose in spelling is to glorify God. My chief purpose in not spelling will be to glorify God."

Baby step

The world's most premature baby went home healthy on Feb. 21. Amillia Sonja Taylor was born on Oct. 24, 2006, just 21 weeks and six days post-conception. Amillia set the world record for age of viability for a baby outside the womb, a central concept in the abortion debate. Under Roe v. Wade, states may place limits on abortions of babies who are old enough to survive outside the womb.

Amillia's homecoming marked the end of a four-month vigil by her parents and doctors, who had to learn on-the-job how to take care of such a young infant.

"We didn't even know what a normal blood pressure is for a baby this small," said William Smalling, a neonatologist at Baptist Children's Hospital in Miami. Doctors from Baptist would not say whether they thought Amillia would be the exception to the rule or the first of many babies to survive such premature birth.-Lynde Langdon

Close-ups

SPORTS: Applying the same determination he says he used to win last year's Tour de France, disgraced American cyclist Floyd Landis says he's fighting to prove his innocence after he says a drug test falsely fingered him as a doper. "I won fair and square," a defiant Landis told The Times of London. "I'll be proven innocent." New reports indicate drug testers may not have followed testing rules completely, indicating Landis may yet escape on a technicality.

DISCOVERY: Filmmaker James Cameron may not want to quit his day job; moonlighting as an archeologist doesn't seem to suit him. Rehashing some Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories, Cameron, who directed Titanic, proudly announced in February that he had discovered Jesus' tomb. And His bones. Cameron claimed he found Christ's burial site with tombs for Jesus' parents and Mary Magdalene (who Cameron calls Jesus' wife). Gospel accounts rebut Cameron's claims. But so do archeologists, who say that an impoverished Jesus, if dead, would not be buried in Jerusalem, as Cameron suggests.

PERSECUTION: An Eritrean man imprisoned for nearly five years for being part of a Protestant church not recognized by the government has died after years of rough treatment as a religious prisoner. Magos Solomon Semere was 30. Multiple sources confirm Semere had been beaten and was suffering from pneumonia when Eritrean authorities offered him medical attention in return for recanting his faith. According to a fellow prisoner, the young Christian man refused: "Magos was determined to obey the Lord rather than men."

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