Catching Up with the Kids from Spellbound

Yesterday, I watched Spellbound, the 2002 documentary that highlights eight children from the 1999 Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee. The children were all very bright students, albeit each one had his or her own set of trials to overcome.

Take for example Ted Brigham, who considered himself somewhat of an outcast due to his incredible intellect; Angela Arenivar, whose grandparents had immigrated to the United States illegally and made a name for themselves; or Neil Kadakia, whose father paid for four different tutors to teach Neil the spelling conventions of French, German, and Spanish.

Director Jeffrey Blitz passes little judgment over the subjects of his camera; while Neil’s father does push him, it also appears that Neil really wants to win the bee but maintains realistic expectations and sets smaller goals (such as making it through the first day, making it onto ESPN, hitting the top 10) that he knows he can attain.

Other kids, such as April DeGideo, who labeled herself a pessimist and focused on the word the would eliminate her during the on-camera interviews, have already become jaded to competition. Not D.C.-native Ashley White, however. White had big hopes and dreams, and her participation in the spelling bee was just a stepping stone toward greater things.

Fast-forward ten years, and what are all these kids doing now? Thanks to some serious Googling on Jen Chaney‘s part, we have some answers, with the key word being “some.” Many of Jen’s links are no longer accessible, so it’s difficult to verify her cyber-detective work. Most of the kids went on to have successful collegiate careers, but two of the kids have had a bumpier ride than the rest.

Despite her lofty ambitions, Ashley found herself following in her grandmother’s and mother’s footsteps by parenting a child at the age of 18. Fortunately for her, she had appeared in an Academy Award-nominated documentary about the national spelling bee a few years earlier and was given a much-needed boost by a philanthropic marketing consultant. That boost was just what Ashley needed, and she has now graduated from Howard University.

Then there’s Ted Brigham, who was the first of the eight children eliminated during the competition. According to Jen, who has it on good authority from Wikipedia, Ted has died. The citation on the Wikipedia page points to a dead page (pun recognized, not intended), and the only other pieces of information I can locate on the matter cost money to procure, so I have no way of confirming whether this is true. Looking at a blog alleging itself to be Ted’s, I have to wonder what may have happened, though.

Gaining this knowledge while watching the film made it difficult for me to watch the moments with Ted because his dour demeanor seems to prognosticate the troubles he would have later in life.

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