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In The Spotlight: The Sitka Spelling Bee

| In The Spotlight | January 27, 2021

I recently spoke with Jeff Budd and Kari Sagel about the long and distinguished history – and 2021 reincarnation – of the Sitka Spelling Bee. The 2021 Bee will take place on Thursday, Feb. 24th, and Bee organizers are actively looking for contestants. New news: the first 16 teams to Register will have their registration fee paid by one of the 2021 Sponsors!

“The Bee started in 2009. Davey Lubin came to us with a desire to raise money to help another library in need, and Sarah (Bell, who was the library director at that time) came had the idea for the spelling bee.” says Kari. “Us” is The Friends of the Library, which, together with the library itself, sponsors the Bee.

So, the 2009 Sitka Bee became a fundraiser for a library down in Guatemala through an organization called Probigua (“Proyecto Bibliotecas Guatemala” – a nonprofit that brings educational opportunities to rural children in Guatemala). You can read about their work at probigua.com/projects.html.

Another year, the Bee was in aid of Haitian libraries affected by the 2010 earthquake.

But where do the words come from? I asked Kari. “I and some other folks pick them out,” she admitted. “It started with words I just liked or found intriguing. Then, over the years I came up with funny sentences for the words. Scripps (the national school spelling bee organization) is now doing this, which I find amusing,” says Kari.

One year, Kari became fascinated with the word “talisman” and her sample sentence was, “He placed his lucky talisman so that it touched both of his bingo cards.”

Sitkan Paul Norwood has also come up with words. Kari describes Paul as “a naturalist, nurse, and National Guardsman. French by birth. He is a great speller, no matter the language. Funny part to me is that the French language accounts for at least 30% of English words.” Kari says one of the most memorable “Paul” anecdotes was “The French Debacle,” in which many words were either French, or English derived from French. Needless to say, Paul won that one.

Kari’s chart of past spelling words is a delight to behold, with word/pronunciation/sentence combos such as:  Bungalow/buhng-guh-loh/She wanted to be the kind of girl who lived in a bungalow and had friends who wore berets. AND Piracy/pahy-ruh-see/Tom contemplated a life of piracy on the Bering Sea.

In more recent years, says Kari, Bee funds have been used for whatever the library needs, and to support “Babies and Books” and the “Imagination Library.” The event, to her knowledge, has never before been broadcast and has actually not been done in the few past years, not since the library remodel.

The original Bee was at least partly the brainchild of one Jeff Budd, who – along with the eponymous Don Muller (as in one who mulls it over) – constituted “Team Zero.” Says Jeff, “Don and I competed in all of the subsequent Bees, maybe six or so.”

The 2021 Sitka Spelling Bee, says Jeff, will take place on Wed., Feb 24th from 7-8:30pm. The Bee – or at least the contestants – will be arranged in an enticingly masked, safe and socially distanced fashion – at the Centennial Building. Then, the event will be broadcast on Zoom for the edification of Sitkans (and others) who would like to view it.

The Rules for this year’s Bee are shaping up to look something like this:

  • A “team” consists of one or two people. The entry fee is $20.00 per person* (*The first 16 contestants/teams to register will be underwritten by one of the Bee sponsors.)
  • Robert Woolsey will be the host and give the words.
  • Lifelines may be purchased to assist your team in spelling. Each team may use two lifelines during the bee. No lifelines will be used in the last two rounds.
    • $5 – Allows the team to Ask a Zoom Audience Member for help. They spell it once and then the team spells it correctly.
    • $10 – Allows 30 seconds to Call a Friend for help. The 30 seconds starts at the end of the question or when the call is placed to the friend (??) Contestant(s) must get the spelling, hang up, and spell the word within the time.
    • $20 – Allows 30 seconds to Find the word in the Dictionary, close the book, and spell the word correctly. You may write on your hand with your finger, but not with a pen or other device.
  • You may restart spelling but must repeat the letters already given exactly in the order they were first given.
  • If no one in a round spells a word correctly, then everyone in that round comes back for the next round. To win the Bee, the last speller has to spell his/her own word and a championship word. If a speller misses the championship word, all the remaining spellers from the previous round will be reinstated.
  • Contestants must wear a mask and practice social distancing as required by the Centennial Building.

People who wish to be in the Bee must contact Jeff Budd to Register. People may call Jeff at 747-4821 or email jbudd3500@gmail.com.

When, I ask, can people start contacting Jeff? Immediately! Forthwith! ASAP! Pronto!

2021 Sitka Spelling Bee Sponsors:  The DUCKfather & Sitka Rotary Club, Sitka Checkered Tours, Christine Harrington CPA Services, Venneberg Insurance, Precision Boat Works, Old Harbor Books, Cindy Westergaard/Neurobehavioral Consultants LLC, Hames Corporation, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Foreign Auto, Sitka Soup, First National Bank of Anchorage

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