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Adults Participate in Spelling Bee

Susan Notes: How many adults do you know who would stand up in pubic--in a spelling bee?

COLCHESTER -- The Lyric Theatre team might have confronted any number of obscure words in the final round of the first Spelling Bee for Literacy held Wednesday at St. Michael's College.

Fate, however, delivered just the right obscure word. Pronouncer Jacques Bailly asked the three-person Lyric team to spell soubresaut -- a French dance term that Lyric choreographer Maggi Hayes immediately recognized. She rattled it off, securing first place and a standing ovation for the team, outfitted in T-shirts plugging Lyric's upcoming production of "The King and I."

"Talk about fortune! When he said it, it was, 'Oh, my God!' I couldn't believe it," Hayes said.

The contest, presented by St. Michael's College and the Vermont Humanities Council, attracted 43 teams and about 130 participants -- including lawyers, retailers, high school students and professors. It raised more than $10,000 for literacy programs.

In Chittenden County alone there are 23,000 adults who cannot read past the eighth-grade level, said Peter Gilbert, executive director of the council. "That's in part why we're here."

Before the contest started an air of nervous excitement filled the McCarthy Arts Center. Robert Letovsky, associate dean for academic affairs at St. Michael's, declared himself "spelling challenged" and feared he would sink his team.

"I've been practicing but frankly I'm beyond redemption. I have assurance from the president of the college that I will not be summarily dismissed if I spell to my true potential," he said.

Other participants groaned as they thumbed through arcane words in The Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee Paideia (derivation Greek, see "Webster's Third New International Dictionary"). Though the contest was not part of the Washington, D.C., spell-off, it relied on words from the 33-page Paideia.

The contest rules were strict -- no writing words, no going back to correct a misspelled word. Regulations stated, the teams went at it. Twelve advanced to the finals and for most, certain death. The Fletcher Free Library Alphabet Ninjas sank on thalassocrat, as in naval supremacy. The Burlington City Arts Firehouse Flames stumbled on Salchow, a figure-skating move. "Survivor Marquesas" star Kathy O'Brien and WCAX-TV meteorologist Gary Sadowsky -- one of three local celebrity teams -- flubbed Elysium. "Is the origin Martian?" asked Sadowsky. (No. The word is taken from Greek mythology and means a place of ideal contentment.)

In the end it came down to a University of Vermont Team and the Lyric squad, made up of Hayes, Michael Ravey and Connie Kite. UVM classics professor Robert Rodgers botched larithmics (a population study) and propelled Lyric to victory.

Contest complete, judges Dorothy Douglas, Vermont's first lady, and Richard Cate, Vermont education commissioner, thanked the participants and stressed the importance of spelling.

Students of today's Internet generation often use informal language, but they still need to know grammar and spelling to succeed in a global job market, Cate said.

"These students are going to have to communicate with people from all over the world. If we can't get our own language right, then we're never going to be able to communicate in someone else's."

mwalsh@bfp.burlingtonfree press.com

— M. Walsh
Spelling bee raises over $10,000
Burlington Free Press


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