Grown-ups competing in spelling bee today, for a cause

Herald Times – By Andy Graham
September 3, 2010

Here’s one spelling bee that should really create some buzz.

The inaugural Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee will transpire from 11:30 a.m. till 1:30 p.m. today at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, with this year’s proceeds going directly to fund operations and equipment at the MCCSC’s New Tech High School.

The event, featuring 14 teams of three intrepid spellers apiece drawn from sundry community organizations, is based upon a renowned and long-running adult spelling bee in Austin, Texas. It has earned the catch-phrase description of “lunacy at lunchtime.” Fun and funding are the operative words — and relatively easy to spell, to boot.

“They’ve been raising money for literacy efforts for years down in Austin,” said Tina Peterson, Foundation of Monroe County Community Schools executive director, whose organization is orchestrating the bee. “And they report having loads of fun with it.” Costumes are encouraged. So is rampant cheerleading from audience members. Peterson said a crowd of 250 to 300 is expected, and the $25 tickets will be available at the door.

Teams paid $500 to participate. John and Sue West, regular contributors to public education causes and to New Tech, are event sponsors, and other major sponsors are Indiana University and Cook Medical. Further donations could arise during the competition as teams can pay an additional $25 to pass along a particularly daunting word to one of the other teams — a maneuver called a “stinger.”

Teams also will get one “mulligan,” where they can simply punt a word. That could render them vulnerable to some creative commentary from master of ceremonies John Whikehart, Ivy Tech-Bloomington chancellor and proud possessor of an undergraduate degree in English. He will be assisted by Paul Daily, artistic director of Ivy Tech’s John Waldron Arts Center. “I’m glad I’m not a speller in the event,” Whikehart said Thursday afternoon. “Even words I know that I know might not come readily to mind. It’s this aging thing. It was a lot easier in the Middle Ages, when people died at 26 or 27 or something, and you just didn’t live long enough for the synapses to sputter.”

Monroe County Community School Corp. Superintendent J.T. Coopman and state Sen. Vi Simpson will help see that the rules, if not always proper protocol, are followed. Jackson Creek Middle School principal Dave Pillar, an official scorer for Indiana University men’s basketball, will man the 20-second clock. A grand trophy awaits the victorious team. A traveling “spirit stick” award will go to the squad — and fans — exhibiting the most spunk.

The “best costumes” award will allow a team to continue festivities via a Nick’s English Hut gift certificate. Whikehart, Peterson and West all noted and expressed gratitude for the community’s generosity during this summer’s “All for All” campaign, which raised $675,000 to fund MCCSC extracurricular stipends in 46 days, and the foundation’s ongoing $3 million campaign that Peterson said is “a year-long commitment to really impact student engagement, literacy and preparing students for success in the 21st century.”

New Tech’s project-based learning approach fits that. “This event provides an opportunity for distinct, targeted funding for that particular program,” West said. Peterson added that it is also “a chance for everybody to see some pretty prominent citizens in some somewhat unique roles.” Whikehart will play the role of impartial adjudicator, of course, except perhaps in regard to The Herald-Times team. “I hear the H-T is sending in a team of copy editors,” he said, adding in mock exasperation: “That’s not fair! They already know how to spell!”

TEAMS: The Spelling T’s, Smart Cookies, Spell Hoosiers, Teachers Under Cover, BUZZkirk-Chumley, Have You Lost Your Faculties, All Saints Spellers, Team BioC, Entrepreneur WannaBEES, 1 Ken & 2 Dolls, Herald-Times Spell Checkers, Neon New Tech Spartans, SIPtacular Spellers.

TEAM SPONSORS: BioConvergence, Coffman Proactive Services, Gayle & Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship at Ivy Tech, Cook Medical, Foundation of Monroe County Community Schools, The Herald-Times, Indiana University, Ivy Tech, Ron Plecher, Hal and Sandy Sabbagh, Southern Indiana Pediatrics, Ray Tichenor, FC Tucker Real Estate.