Well, the short of it is Joey was totally awesome. He stuck it out, spelled his words, and would have won the whole thing if they didn't change the rules for the last round. But, they change the rules for the last round, so he wasn't the Grand Champion. He totally, totally rocked the house.
The long story... well, it was one of those experiences that have ups and downs and odd moments and great moments. This was the third grade spelling bee, so all the third grade came to watch it, and most of the parents of the kids actually in it- 24 of them (two from each class). For their "practice round", each child stood and spelled their name. Most of the kids got up, precisely spelled their name, and sat down. Joey did this Joey Style, which was a lot more fun, with a lot more awesomeness. He got up there with enthusiasm and relish.
And then the whole room laughed. Most of the parents laughed because, hey, he was cute. But the laughter from the kids, that was different. You could tell by the little undertow of jeer and imitation, that there were an awful lot of those kids laughing at him, not with him. All the talk about teaching kids about diversity, about respect, about creating supportive environments... these are the kids Joey had to deal with all summer, or the ones that didn't know him at all. Some of the parents, who didn't know me from a turnip, whispered something about wondering why "that kid" was up there. I knew they wouldn't be saying such things an hour from then.
By the time Joey was the only one to spell his word correctly of the final four, those cheers were for him, not at him.
But in the final round of a spelling bee, the rules change. When you spell your word correctly, but everyone else does not, you then have to spell another word, or everyone else gets to come back and have another round. Unfortunately, Joey's word was "dignified," and he mis-spelled it completely (it was not a word he had seen before, it's not on the spelling word lists). Everyone got to come back, and this time, he was discombobulated enough to mis-spell the next word ("salute"), so he was out. The two kids who went on? They both mis-spelled their next words, before finally the one child spelled two words correctly in a row and was proclaimed the winner.
Joey was a little upset, but I brought a prize to reward him for even trying the bee. He ran at first, saying he was a loser, that he lost. Mrs. C got down and looked him right in the eye and told him that he was winner, that he was the best speller in the class, reminded him that he had spelled the words correctly when everyone else had missed theirs, and told him how proud she was of him. We sat with the other bee contestants and let him have his present, and all those kids were cheering him and saying things like, "you know you really won, Joey- you were the first winner!" and telling him how great he was. And his class? They lined up and everyone insisted on giving him a high-five, and cheering.
Parents stopped me in the lobby and the parking lot to say, "To us, he was the real winner! He was the one who really won that spelling bee!" If nothing else, he earned his respect, and showed a lot of his peers (and their parents) that he was no pity participant, but a true contestant; one who had, by all rights of the rules of the majority of the game, won. He showed them what true diversity means. We all have strengths. And it is awesome to be unique.