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Gainesville First United Methodist Church outspells competitors
Gala evening raises money for Alliance for Literacy
Doc Johnson, who has crafted the first place awards for the Annual Spelling Bee for the past 10 years, speaks to the audience about his own fear of reading Tuesday at Pearce Auditorium. Johnson, who has since conquered that fear, spoke about the existence of reading beyond the written word. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Shown up too many times by their rivals from Grace Episcopal Church, the Methodists were out for respect, the kind Aretha Franklin spelled out, in Tuesday’s 18th Annual Spelling Bee at Brenau University.

When the dust had cleared and nine other teams went by the wayside on words like "lagniappe" and "maquillage," the First United Methodist Church’s Circuit Riders were the last spellers standing. Michelle Alexander correctly spelled out "allopatric" to win the trophy and bragging rights for the literacy fundraiser.

"We were really happy when we got that word," said Circuit Rider member Ruth Bruner, whose team of three studied for the two and half hour competition. "It was one we knew."

Perennial powerhouses and reigning champions Grace Episcopal were uncharacteristically eliminated in the fourth round, missing the word "nauplius" by a single letter.

"We’ll be back next year," promised Grace Episcopal’s Charlene Bird.

The competition, which raised money for the Gainesville/Hall Alliance for Literacy, lasted five rounds and 46 words, two fewer than last year. Master of ceremonies and wordsmith Gay Hammond led the proceedings with poise and wit, but without shoes, which she ditched after the second round.

From the beginning, the Methodists were the team to beat, not missing a word until the final round. Alexander broke a streak of seven misspelled words by other teams when she correctly spelled "resupinate."

The Spelling Bee also featured teams from Brenau, Cargill, the Gainesville-Hall County Junior League, the Gainesville Rotary Club, Lanier Cold Storage, Lanier Technical College, the Hall County Library, Hall Book Exchange, Wrigley’s and Fair Street Elementary. The Times was the event’s primary sponsor.

The Bee is the longest-running adult literacy fundraiser in Georgia. It has raised more than $250,000 for adult reading lessons in the past 18 years.

"It’s one of the most important things a community can do, because you can’t really participate in society if you can’t read," Bruner said. "It’s so wonderful when we can be a part of helping adults to read. And it’s all good-humored fun."

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