When was the last time you participated in an honest-to-goodness spelling academic spelling bee? Do you remember studying with flashcards in hopes of advancing? Or do you still remember that terrible word that tripped you up, sounding that damnable bell of shameful mistakes?
With a packed house of eager cheerleaders waiting for their letters in silent anticipation, six teams of three spellers gathered at the Highball Monday for the first of this year's Great Grown-up Spelling Bees. Put on each year by The Literacy Coalition of Central Texas (LCCT), the Spelling Bees are unique fundraisers that invite participation from donors through a format that compliments their mission.
With 1 in 5 adults living with illiteracy in Central Texas, the LCCT works tirelessly to improve the quality and increase the availability of literacy instruction in Travis Country and surrounding counties. Through partnerships with over 70 national and local literacy organizations, the LCCT is making sure the adults in need receive the help they need to overcome the obstacles that arise from illiteracy.
Monday's Spelling Bee was a warm-up for their major fundraiser to be held May 9 at Austin Music Hall. There, more teams comprised of representative donor organizations will gather their wits to stay one word ahead of the bell and claim the Spelling Bee title.
Prior to the competition, Nancy Nicholas, Board Chair of LCCT explained the rules of this unique Bee. "This is a little different from those spelling bees you participated in in school," she announces. "First, there's beer at this bee. And second, it's a team event where you can rely on the help of your teammates."
In addition to the collaborative aspect of the bee, each team is granted one automatic "Mulligan” to reject their given word and request a new one. Additionally, teams can buy “Stingers” for a $25 donation to force another team to spell their word for them. Similarly, “Shoutouts” could aslso be purchased with a $25 donation to get help from the audience. (Wouldn't you have loved to have these options back in elementary school?)
One by one, the teams representing Innography (Counter Punch), Convio (The Guerrilla Spellers), BazaarVoice (Bee Verbose), Newgistics (The King Bees), Thinkwell (Spellwell) and Affinegy (The Pro Spellers) took turns spelling out the words enunciated for them by Celebrity Guest Pronouncer Jennifer Stayton of KUT News' Morning Edition.
Each team made it through the first two rounds, but the terrible bell sounds in Round 3 after the word 'dearth' trips up Bee Verbose. "You can't help but notice that an empty drink got our team out on that one," jokes Celebrity Guest Judge Elisabeth Earl, a real Travis County Court at Law #7 judge.
Round 4 continues without a hitch, but in Round 5, the King Bees get stung with the word 'pasteurize.' Shaken, their competitors, Spellwell, Mulligan their word, 'pablum,' so as not to face the same fate. They pass unscathed into Round 6 with the word 'cruller.'
In Round 6, Counter Punch wisely Mulligans the word 'nebbish' and stays alive with 'Rottweiler.' The clever Guerilla Spellers strategically buy a Stinger to stick the tricky word 'banzai' to the next TWO teams who are quickly and efficiently eliminated. The Guerilla Spellers stay alive with the word 'ineluctable,' propelling them into the finale with Team Counter Punch.
In the final round, just as in other spelling bees, if one teams spells a word incorrectly, the other team has a chance to steal the word and win the game. After three cycles of correct answers, the words escalated to such a level that no one on stage nor in the audience could spell them. Katabatic. Malison. Absorbefacient. (Yeah, you'll want to look those ones up.)
After stealing the word 'poltroonery' from Counter Punch, the word to win the game for the Guerilla Spellers of Convio was "Weimaraner." The sweet-faced hunting dog qualifies the winning team for automatic entry into the 9th Annual Great Grown-up Spelling Bee at Austin Music Hall on May 9.
The Grown-up Spelling Bee is only one way you can support The Literacy Coalition of Central Texas. Donations help to keep their mission alive and volunteer instructors are needed to reach the thousands of illiterate adults in our surrounding neighborhoods. "We train over 200 volunteer instructors each year," says Nicholas. "With their help, we have more than doubled the services available in Austin."
Maybe your happy memories of your childhood Spelling Bee can spark a lifetime of change in someone else's life.