UVM professor honored for decades of contribution to National Spelling Bee

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Many students at the University of Vermont might know Dr. Jacques Bailly primarily as a professor, but his side-job as lead pronouncer for the Scripps National Spelling Bee has gained him nationwide recognition.

“Most people don’t really know it, and then someone will say ‘Hey, he has a Wikipedia page!” Dr. Bailly said. “Then, it spreads through the class and they ask a few questions, I think they all think it’s really neat.”

Dr. Bailly has been a prominent figure in the annual competition, which is televised on ESPN. He first started appearing on-air in 2003, but his history with the spelling bee dates back to 1980, when he won the competition at 14 years-old. His winning word? Elucubrate.

“It was a very long spelling bee,” Dr. Bailly said. “It was two days up on stage with the TV lights on you, I was exhausted by the end of it.”

His colleagues and students at the University of Vermont recognized him for his contributions to the spelling bee on Thursday, surprising him with the Scripps Spelling Bee’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

The trophy, decorated with bees and a plaque commemorating his 1980 victory, is much more detailed than the one he received after that triumph.

“I used to drink soda out of that trophy when I was a teenager,” Dr. Bailly said.

He said the strongest recognition for his work has come from the contestants.

“For one week a year, I have the most fantastic fan club ever,” Dr. Bailly said. “All the kids at the spelling bee, they’ve been hearing my voice all year and they’re just so excited to meet me.”

Dr. Bailly presided over an historic 8-way tie at the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee. As the contestants kept answering correctly, he told them “We’re basically throwing the dictionary at you, and so far, you’re showing the dictionary who’s boss.”

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