1 competitor, 1 spelling bee _ 20,000 note cards

Joseph White:

One of the favorites to win this year’s National Spelling Bee lay face down on his living room floor wearing a black shirt, blue jeans and white socks, his torso supported by a couple of big pillows. His hands seemed to be on nonstop autopilot as they folded colorful paper into origami shapes.
Across the room in a big chair sat his younger brother. Between them were stacks and stacks of oversized, homemade note cards, bound by rubber bands and arranged like a city skyline on a large footstool. They are only a fraction of some 20,000 cards in the house, each printed with a word, its origin, pronunciation and definition.
These particular stacks contained the really hard words, the ones 13-year-old Tim Ruiter hadn’t mastered yet.