13-Year Old Showed “a Lot of Integrity”; Why Can’t Our Leaders

It’s the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. this week, and the New York Times had a Back Story feature article about some highlights of the competition.

One fun fact – the first winner, back in 1925, received $500 in gold. This year’s winner will receive $40,000. (While that may seem like a big increase, if the winner had sold the gold for $500 cash and then invested that money into an account that earned 6% per year, it would be worth over $112,000 today.)

The Spelling Bee will always have a special place in my memory; I represented our school for three years at the County Spelling Bee, I never won, but I lasted longer each year. The words I got wrong: sarsaparilla (who knew there was an “r” in it; piccolo (Can’t remember if I put in two “c”s and two “l”s, or just one of each; and alibi (I used an “a” instead of the first “i”). Not really sure why I remember this stuff almost 50 years later.

Anyway, the one story in the Times that caught my attention was what happened back in the 1983 Spelling Bee.

Andrew Flosdorf, 13 years old, of Fonda, N.Y., was given the word echolalia. The judges thought he had spelled the word correctly, even listening to tapes before making their decision.

However, during an afternoon break, Flosdorf told the judges that they had misunderstood him, and that he had mistakenly substituted an ”e” for the first ”a.”, and thus misspelled the word.

Andrew said he learned of his mistake when other contestants asked him how he spelled the word. He checked and realized he had in fact misspelled it.

‘The judges said I had a lot of integrity,” said Flosdorf, adding that part of his motive was, ”I didn’t want to feel like a slime.’

‘We want to commend him for his utter honesty,” said Mr. Robert Baker, the chief judge.

Between interviews and requests to appear on network television, Andrew said he was a bit surprised by all the attention. ”The first rule of Scouting is honesty,” said Andrew.

Being honest is not always the easiest path to choose, but it is certainly the right one. It’s called integrity, being true to oneself. And it sounds like he learned that lesson in the Scouts, and I’m assuming from his parents as well.

It took a lot of courage, admitting he was wrong, especially when others thought he was right.

To see such courage in a 13-year old is wonderful.

If only we could see the same behavior in our leaders – admit when you are wrong, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

So simple, a 13-year old could do it.

P.S. I also witnessed such honesty in our local spelling bee. In our school spelling bee, which determined who went on the country spelling bee, it had come down to myself and a fellow eighth grader. I forget what word I was given, but I misspelled it. The judge told me what my mistake was, and then asked my classmate to spell a new word, and when he did so correctly, pronounced him as the champion. Needless to say, I was crushed, since I was the two-time defending champ. But then somebody mentioned that the rules of the bee required the other boy to spell the word I had gotten wrong before he spelled a new word. Since the judge had already told us how to spell the word I had gotten wrong, there was no opportunity to do so. The judge (one of the teachers) simply asked the other boy if he thought he would have spelled the word correctly, and the boy admitted that he would not have spelled it correctly. That was a noble gesture, and again, took a lot of courage. As a result, we started over, just the two of us, and I eventually won. So perhaps it’s no surprise that I don’t remember what the word was, because that was not the most memorable thing that happened that day. Thank you, Joe G. for your integrity!

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