National Spelling Bee returning with limited, mostly virtual format
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A year after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the organizers announced Monday that the 2021 contest will take place in a predominantly virtual form.

Rather than gathering at the convention center outside Washington where the bee has traditionally taken place, only 12 finalist will gather in person at a Disney-owned ESPN campus, The Associated Press reported.

The timeline will also be expanded from a week to several, including preliminary rounds in June, semifinals at the end of the month and televised final rounds July 8, according to the AP.

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“We gave up on the idea of Bee Week early on because we knew we couldn’t bring hundreds of people to one location safely,” Carolyn Micheli, the bee’s interim executive director, told the AP. “We came up with what I think is a pretty exciting and creative way of structuring the competition across several weeks that will be fun for the kids, build excitement, and I think it’s a great way to cope with a difficult situation.”

The number of competitors will be reduced by about 64 percent from 2019 to some 200 spellers, and the bee has scrapped a wild-card program that began in 2018 to recruit more competitors from competitive regions of the country, according to the AP.

The competition will also eliminate written tests to reduce the field to about 50 semifinalists, meaning more difficult words will come up in earlier rounds in the 2021 bee.