These days, athletic competition at the highest levels involves an inordinate amount of finger pointing, fist thrusting and chest pumping.

These actions often are taken to mock an opponent, and all are prime examples of poor sportsmanship.

You hear how these examples have filtered down to the lower levels, and how youthful participants now are guilty of poor sportsmanship. But at Tuesday’s Iroquois-Kankakee Regional Spelling Bee, a proverbial breath of fresh air could be felt throughout the Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School Auditorium.

The 19 area elementary students involved displayed the epitome of sportsmanship throughout. They were respectful to each other, the pronouncer, the judges and everyone else involved with the bee. Even when they sustained the disappointment of being eliminated, they remained composed and shifted their allegiance to the spellers who remained in contention.

One of the most shining examples came from Tommie Lott, a sixth-grade student at Kankakee’s King Middle School. He spelled a word wrong, and pronouncer Will Rezba respectfully informed the boy he was mistaken and gave the proper spelling. Lott responded with a polite “thank you’’ and took a seat in the audience to observe the rest of the bee.

After 17 rounds of competition, only two spellers remained, Quinn Meadows, of Bradley Central School, and Bryan Aldridge, of Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center.

For 16 more rounds, the pair battled tooth and nail before Meadows emerged as the regional champion in the 33rd round.

During and immediately after the battle, the boys interacted with each other respectfully. They congratulated each other’s success and provided encouragement.

Aldridge obviously was upset by the outcome, and it showed in his face. But he maintained his composure and handled the situation with grace.

Pro and major college athletes who behave differently should take heed. People tend to be inherently competitive, but that doesn’t give them the right to be boastful winners or sore losers. At a young age, the regional bee participants already have figured it out.

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