IU’s ‘Spell Hoosier’ team spells victory

Herald-Times By Andy Graham
September 4, 2010

Costumes, silliness, attempted bribery put fun in fundraiser

“Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Cookies! Cookies! Coooooookies!”
“We are the SIPs, the mighty, mighty SIIIIIIIIPs!”
“School of Ed! School of Ed! School of Ed!”

New Tech Team

Will Hickman shrugs after attempting to spell a word.

The chants through a crowded Buskirk-Chumley Theater filled the half-hour before competition commenced around noon Friday at the inaugural Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee. Toss in rhythms rattled out on kitchen utensils by the Cook Medical “Smart Cookies” fan base, all adorned by chef hats, and it added up to a cacophony — which happened to be a word one of the 14 competing teams had to spell during the fundraiser staged by the Foundation of Monroe County Community Schools.

The event was patterned off a similar spelling bee in Texas, and foundation executive director Tina Peterson said Bloomington’s first try was also successful. The goal was to raise $25,000 toward this year’s beneficiary, Bloomington’s New Tech High School and, while all the numbers aren’t yet tallied, Peterson guessed the goal was met or exceeded.

All Saints Spellers

The “All Saints Spellers” parade to the stage.

Addressing the crowd of between 250 and 300 before the spelling began, Peterson said, “Cyrilla Helm from our office and I went down to Austin a few years ago and saw their Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee. It was spectacular. And we thought Bloomington might have just the right combination of intellectuality and insanity to make a good go of that sort of event here. Well, we’ve yet to do any spelling today, but I can already safely say that we’ve got the lunacy aspect covered.”

Costumes were optional, but most contestants availed themselves of the chance to present alter egos. Master of ceremonies John Whikehart and able assistant Paul Daily, both of Ivy Tech Community College, were resplendent in dark blue wizard robes festooned with yellow stars and planets — though only Whikehart, the Ivy Tech chancellor, got to wear a pointy hat. The “All Saints Spellers” squad of Harold Sabbagh, Richard Barrett and Patrick Rincon showcased full angelic garb, halos and gossamer wings included. The retired MCCSC personnel representing “Teachers Under Cover,” Sharon Finley, Susan Nowlin and Helen Hollingsworth, sported film noir-ready trench coats and fedoras. Laura Wasylenki, an IU assistant professor of geological science, gazed out over the whole cast of characters and said, “I’m new to Bloomington, but from what I see, I should fit in just fine.”

Wasylenki and her “Spell Hoosier” teammates representing IU, Laurie McRobbie and Mary Favret, won the event. “Well, our team had a professor of English and a professor of geology — Â and in terms of full disclosure, Laura was a New Mexico state champion speller as a seventh grader,” McRobbie said. “I think she was after some redemption for not winning as an eighth-grader.” The fun started right away. Chuck Carney of the IU School of Education’s “Spell Checkers” made a show of trying to “bribe” the adjudicating panel of Mark Kruzan, Vi Simpson and J.T. Coopman. Rod Young of “The Spelling T’s” did the same with Whikehart, who rejected the proffered bill as “not enough.”

The Herald-Times team

Rebecca Troyer of The Herald-Times team, takes a turn spelling a word with her teammates.

Whikehart also got to put words into sentences for the spellers and drew laughter with several, such as this one for the word “filibuster:” “A filibuster would go unnoticed at a Bloomington City Council meeting.” At times, it was almost like being at a comedy club. Michael Navarro, standing alongside Team BioC teammates Andrew Peabody and Lance Wright, quipped during introductions: “I want the record to show I’m starting out at a distinct disadvantage, because I’m up here with two Purdue grads.” Perhaps it was fated, then, that Team BioC would be the first team eliminated. But whittling down the field proved tough. All but two teams made it through the first round, and the competition went four rounds, going from words such as “pueblo” and “trauma” to words that seemed impossible to pronounce, let alone spell.

Four finalist teams finally emerged and had a “write off” on white boards, with the teams all trying to spell five excruciatingly obscure words. “Spell Hoosier” got four of the five correct. The Herald-Times trio of Penny Reid, Becky Troyer and Leora Baude was runner-up, followed by the BUZZkirk-Chumley squad of Danielle McClelland, Lynn Schwartzberg and Mark Need; and One Ken and Two Dolls, composed of Ken Gros-Louis, Sue Wanzer and Jane St. John. “Spell Hoosier,” the team that ended up providing supporters with the most reasons to cheer, took home the traveling “Spirit Stick” trophy. “All Saints Spellers” won the prize for best costumes.