Can you spell concatenate? The Dewey Decimators representing the Friends of the Heights Libraries can and did to win the Reaching Heights Adult Community Spelling Bee held on May 20, 2020. This team has won a total of five Reaching Heights Bees and most of these victories belong to spellers Susan Marshall, Chris Mentrek and Victor Rosenberg.
This annual tradition that brings together the community to celebrate public education and raise money seemed destined for cancellation when the Ohio Stay-at-Home Orders were announced. Instead, the staff and board of Reaching Heights were determined to reinvent the 29th annual spelling bee as an online event that honored its history.
After many planning meetings and two practice sessions, 10 teams competed in the virtual spelling bee. The Coventry Word Outlaws wore bandit gear; a new team this year, the Scorpions had an image of their stinging namesake on their virtual backgrounds; and the Boulevard Spellman had colorful and dramatic headwear. The top fundraising team for many years running, Upper Case, representing Case Western Reserve University, spelled in graduation caps.
Since they could not gather in the same room together, spellers agreed to follow the honor system using only their personal knowledge to guess the spelling of their team’s words. Beyond that, the rules and procedures stayed very close to the traditional in-person team spelling bee. Master of Ceremonies for the past 25 years, Steve Presser, introduced the teams. Then Pronouncer, Sally Wile, Spiritual Care for University Hospitals, gave teams their words. And this year’s Bee Judges, Danielle Foran, Early Childhood Education Specialist for the CH-UH school district, and Liz Kirby, Superintendent of CH-UH Schools, monitored the spellings.
Another change this year was to direct all funds raised from sponsors, team fees, and individual donations to a specific, tangible need for additional supplies for elementary music and art. Major sponsors included Tommy’s Restaurant, the Upper Case spelling team, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights Teachers Union, Nancy Deitrich, Cheryl Stephens, Malia Lewis, Margot Damaser, and Fey Parrill. Every donor was publicly thanked on the virtual bee program shown at the start of the bee.
Though the event included some minor technical issues, it reached more people than past Bees and also included some extra fun hearing and watching the teams discuss and type out and then adjust the spelling of their words. Since the world has become more isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic, this virtual bee was an opportunity to come together for an evening of silly, campy, fun and serious spelling.