Looking back at Spellapalooza 2014


Recently, I was in a room with a plethora of really good spellers. Fellow employee and veteran speller Steve Fry, along with “newbies” Dylan Buell and myself, made up the team fielded by The State Journal to compete at the Spellapalooza, held recently at First United Methodist Church.

While spelling was the centerpiece, the annual event brought the community together to benefit a great cause — Thorn Hill Education Center.

As well as the spelling bee, there was a dinner and a bake sale and an auction. Many came especially to cheer on their favorite team. 

Seventeen teams of three people each, sponsored by local businesses and churches and organizations, competed in an old fashioned spelling bee with a bit of a twist.

Instead of being the lone speller on the stage, the teams of three could confer for up to a minute before the letters were then pronounced one by one by microphone from the speller’s mouth.

Teams could also purchase a pass if they wanted to try their luck with another word. Or, two experts were available if a team wanted an extra opinion on the spelling of a word. This, all for a price that went as a donation to the Center.

With the announcement, “That is correct” the team would move to the next round — and another word.

Mary Lynn Collins has been the “beekeeper” of Spellapalooza since its beginning five years ago. I asked her to shed some light on all things Spellapalooza. Here are the questions and her responses:

How many teams competed this year?

A: Seventeen teams competed. We had a number of teams returning and several new teams.

We had our youngest team this year — students from Western Hills High School, the Spell Binders. And we had our “oldest” team as well — at least we think so, the “We Take Spells” from the Frankfort Senior Activity Center. (Of course they may have acted older than they are.) The Kiwanis joined us for the first time this year, as well as Capital Cellars’ Team Winos.

Two of the teams competing were past winners: the Optimists Illiterati team won in 2010 as The Beas (as in Bea Arthur) and the State Journal Wordsworth team won in 2011. The team that won in 2012 and 2013, Legislative Research Commission’s Spellrc, did not return this year but one of their members, Brian Throckmorton came back as an Expert.

How were the words chosen?

A: Donna Gibson, Executive Director of the Paul Sawyier Public Library, is the wordsmith and has been since Spellapalooza began five years ago. As soon as one bee is done, she starts working on next year’s list, adding to her list as she comes across words that she thinks would be good for the bee.

What was the winning word?

A: The KSU PH Bees missed the word “pertinacious.” The First Christian Church team, the Diphthongs, spelled “pertinacious” correctly. Then, they were given the winning word “succulent” — which they spelled correctly.

Who were the last two teams standing?

A: The competition lasted four hours and contestants attempted 300 words. The winning team was The Diphthongs and consisted of Larry Cox, Peter Croswell, and Steve Siler. The runner up was the PH Bees and their team was Carolyn Nemeth, Ed Conner, and Erin Gilles. 

Honorable mention should go to the third and fourth place teams because the four teams spelled forever, it seemed, without missing a word. Third place went to Bridgeport Christian Bookworms with team members Ted Sloan, Laura Begin and Nick Perkins. Fourth place went to the Illterati-Optimist Club of Frankfort with team members Erin Mentzer, Lin Teachey, and Ben Mentzer.

Who won special awards?

A: The Best Dressed Award went to The Illiterati-Optimists Club of Frankfort.

The Most Loved Award went to the Diphthongs. This award is based on the team that has the most money in its honey pot at the end of the night. The First Christian Church team has won Most Loved for the last three years.

Best Team Spirit award went to We Take Spells from the Frankfort Senior Activity Center sponsored by the Glitterbugs. The team consisted of Joyce Kantner, Jim Badgett, and Debbie Bramlage.

Is Spellapalooza an original brainchild or patterned from another program?

A: The Thorn Hill Foundation was looking for a fundraiser idea and through the Internet, I found several communities that were having spelling bees as a fundraiser and it seemed a good fit for Thorn Hill.

After the Foundation decided to host a bee, we discovered that the Warren County Community Education program, which is similar to Thorn Hill Education Center, was using the concept for a fundraiser. 

I contacted them and the “beekeeper” there was very helpful, sending me their bee rules, as well as several videotapes of bees in other places. She also invited me to come to Warren County’s next bee, which I did. Spellapalooza is modeled loosely after the Warren County’s Spellabration.

How much was raised for Thorn Hill Education Center?

A: As of today, the approximate total is $10,000 for this year. Not everything has been finalized.

For what will the money be used?

A: In the first couple of years we used a portion of the funds to help pay for the purchase of the Thorn Hill School building. Now, we use the funds to pay for fuel to provide daily transportation to students who need it.

Many students who have babies, drop out of school because they don’t have anyone to keep their children while they attend school. We help solve that barrier by providing childcare while mom or dad attend classes. Every service we provide above and beyond GED instruction costs money and we are so thankful to all our supporters in Franklin County. We still believe that the best economic stimulus is a good education.  

Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I really like the bee as a fundraiser for two reasons. First, it does not require a lot of overhead and people who contribute can be assured their money will go directly to help Thorn Hill.

Secondly, it is a wonderful community effort with involvement from many different organizations. We have had teams compete from the city school system, the county school system and KSU. And we have an incredible bake sale with lots of individuals and groups in the community providing the baked goods. 

 We have been fortunate to get so many in the community to help us. 

 Finally, I want to say many folks in this community have no idea about the good work that Thorn Hill does.  They have literacy programs, English as a second language, and GED programs. 

They go to the jail and provide educational assistance. They have a wonderful program that provides critical support to young parents working on their GED or seeking to improve their educational skills. They provide transportation for students who need it and they provide childcare while students are at the center. This year Thorn Hill had 94 GED graduates.

The staff is a group of the most positive people I have ever come across — incredibly dedicated. As a former tutor and member of the board, I can say this program truly changes people’s lives.


Spellapalooza Missed Words


















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  • As in the past, I had a great time and look forward to doing it again next year. :o)