Nostalgic wordsmiths prep for Spellathon in Clinton

Stellar Speller members Bob (left) and Pat (right) Brunjes touch up on their grammar skills before the first ever Spellathon in Clinton. The adult spelling bee is a fundraiser for Clinton Library programs.

Spelling is an important facet of life, not an important faucet of life. Just ask Greenbank resident Dot Read.

She knows better than most that good spelling is crucial. A misplaced letter can lead to awkward situations and even doomed love.

“I had a boyfriend once who opened every letter he wrote to me with, ‘dear sweaty,’ ” she said. “It didn’t last much longer.”

Luckily for Read, she will be able to take on other South End wordsmiths who are similarly irritable about grammatical errors at the first ever Spellathon at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 in Clinton. Organized by the Clinton Library and the Friends of the Clinton Library, the idea behind the event is to bring the community together to duel over tricky words in a light-hearted spirit — competitors will be dressed in wacky costumes.

The Spellathon is an adult spelling bee that scraps the typical individual contest platform for a team-based competition. Organizers are expecting about a dozen teams to participate in all. Each will make its way through three rounds, which become increasingly difficult. Clinton Library Book Sale Coordinator Christina Swan said the rounds were designed that way to maximize fun, even for novice spellers.

“We want to add a lightness to it,” Swan said. “We don’t want it to be a dry competition, we want the teams to go and enjoy themselves.”

Randy Hudson will MC the event. He is a member of the Heggenes Valley Boys, a South Whidbey band, who will also play music while teams scramble to correctly spell a word. Participating teams are encouraged to dress up and devise clever names, including The Wannabees and Highway to Spell, and the audience will vote on awards such as best costume and best team name.

There’s no cost to attend, but the team entry fee is $20. Entry forms and money are due by Monday, Sept. 26.

Teams knocked out early on don’t have to worry about sitting on the sideline for long, Swan said. The contest has a buyback option, except for in the final round, where teams can reenter for $20. It doesn’t matter if the eliminated group or a different team pays the buyback fee.

Read’s team, a group of star spangled, tiara-wearing wordsmiths who call themselves the Stellar Spellers, includes her longtime friends and South Whidbey residents Bob and Pat Brunjes. Playful as they may be, they mean business.

“We are in it to win it all the way,” Read said. “The minute I accepted the honored role of being a member of the Stellar Spellers, I immediately went to check if there were two ‘m’s in accommodate and double checked how to spell fuchsia. Those are tricky.”

Read, who was a high school English teacher for 30 years, said the team has plenty of time to brush up on tricky words over the next week. She said she will need to study, since three decades of seeing “everything spelled multiple ways” has tripped her up. Handling kids and their bad spelling over the years has shown her the importance of grammatical skills and its ability to clear up confusion.

“For 30 years, I tried to promote spelling and I didn’t always succeed,” Read said. “For example, I once read from a student that his mother put a snake in his lunch every day. I was about to call Child Protective Services, but then I realized he meant ‘snack.’ ”

Aside from bringing the South End together with a fun event, the Spellathon was created to raise funds for the Clinton Library. Proceeds will benefit the library’s 52 programs, Swan said.

The Spellathon is the brainchild of Arlene Stebbins, the president of Friends of Clinton Library. Stebbins came up with the idea after tuning into an Everett radio station and listening to an on-air spelling contest; participants called in and did they their best to spell. It was created to develop interest in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but the radio bee was discontinued. Stebbins saw an opportunity to create a unique fundraiser for the Clinton Library, and thought she would fill that void left by the radio spelling bee she heard.

“I thought it was a really fun idea for every day adults,” Stebbins said. “I was already looking for ways to raise funds for the library, but the team spelling bee caught my attention. I liked how it involved many people and it looked the most fun of any idea I had.”

For Read and other spellers, the Spellathon brings back a degree of nostalgia. She said spelling bees are less and less common as the years go by, and for the older crowd who haven’t participated in one for more than 30 years, this is a fun opportunity to shake off some mental dust and demonstrate their spelling chops.

“I think it’s just wonderful and the nostalgia value alone makes it a worthwhile event,” Read said. “It resurrects the importance of spelling in our lives. Spell Check isn’t everything.”