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These adults spell to help the rest of the county read
$250,000 raised in 17 years for Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy
The Wrigley’s manufacturing and Fair Street Elementary School team, from left, Kevin Hendrick, Alicia Osoria and Eric Wold, confer on a word late in the 17th Annual Spelling Bee Tuesday night. The team placed second to the Grace Episcopal Church team. - photo by Tom Reed

Thirty adults put their thinking caps on Tuesday evening and competed in the 17th Annual Spelling Bee to benefit local literacy efforts.

Spellers took the stage at Brenau University’s John S. Burd Center in front of four antennae-clad judges and a crowd of about 75. The bee was sponsored by The Times and is the main fundraiser for the Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy, which helps more than 3,000 people a year.

Dorothy Shinafelt, executive director of the Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy, said the alliance focuses on adult literacy.

"Almost 30 percent of adults 25 years and older in Hall County don’t have an education attainment level of at least a high school diploma," Shinafelt said.

In 17 years, the bee has raised more than $250,000 for the umbrella agency that provides GED preparation classes as well as literacy and English classes at the Adult Learning Center at Lanier Technical College. Proceeds from the bee help the alliance to purchase books for summer reading programs and provide continuing education scholarships for GED graduates.

The panel of judges for the bee included Gainesville City Councilman Danny Dunagan, Brenau President Ed Schrader, Lanier Tech President Mike Moye and United Way President Jackie Wallace, who read dictionary definitions upon spellers’ requests.

Ten teams of three people participated in the spelling bee, hosted by Gay Hammond, director of Brenau’s Wonderquest Theatre, who served as the bee’s wordsmith for the 14th year.

"It’s really casual. We don’t want people to think it’s like the ones with kids who have heart attacks if they miss a word," Hammond said.

Each team donated $1,200 to compete in the spelling bee, including the Grace Episcopal Church team, which took home the first place trophy this year and last. Second place went to the Wrigley’s manufacturing company and Fair Street Elementary School team. Third place winners were from First United Methodist Church, which also placed third in the event last year.

Hammond had the task of selecting the words 30 contestants mulled over, and typically stumbled over.

"I really just pick words that I like. I start out easy enough with words that give confidence," Hammond said. "I like words that you can actually use."

She threw out words such as piscivorous, echolalia, bigeminy and blepharal, which means of or relating to the eyelids.

Hammond was even kind enough to use them in a sentence: "He thought she was winking at him, but it turns out she just had a blepharal tick."

"There’s no shame in going out on bigeminy," she told one team as it slinked off stage.

After a 2«-hour showdown, one team emerged victorious.

The Grace Episcopal Church team won on the word "languorous," meaning sluggish.

Team members Nancy Richardson, Charlene Bird and Joe Williams walked off with a glorious trophy and three wooden rocking chairs provided by Georgia Chair.

"It was tense. It’s always tense," said Richardson.

"We were arguing about whether there was a ‘u’ in it or not, and I said there was a ‘u’, and they agreed with me for once."