The IthacaSTEM Hexaplexes did not have a chance to practice before they arrived at Ithaca High School for the Ithaca Public Education Initiative’s Adult Spelling Bee. They did not plan on participating until the organizers of the bee said they needed one more team and IthacaSTEM secretary Mark Chao volunteered to participate.
“They had 31 teams and needed 32,” said Karen Trible, team member and treasurer of IthacaSTEM. “Mark raised his hand and offered to make a team. He asked me to join and I happened to know the Latin teacher at our high school and thought she could be the third person.”
Little did they know at the time, they had formed the championship team. Chao and Suzanne Nussbaum, the aforementioned Latin teacher, had not met before they got to the event. They were there to have a good time, so there was no panic whatsoever, as the team was en route to claiming the Fuzzy Bee Trophy.
“We figured we would wing it,” said Nussbaum.
This was the 18th Adult Spelling Bee that the IPEI has held and this year was the largest one to date. IPEI facilitates community connections and support for students and teachers of the Ithaca City School District through engagement, collaboration, gifts, and grants.
While IPEI does a lot of fundraising through the mail, this is by far their biggest fundraising event of the year. Spellers seek sponsors, as it requires a $400 sponsorship to form a team. This year, the bee was able to approach its goal of $30,000 raised, which would be one third of what IPEI raised in grants all last year.
“Last year, over $90,000 in grants for teachers were awarded within the school district,” said Jennifer Biloski, Spelling Bee Chair. “Throughout the year, IPEI does fundraising, but in terms of doing a signature fundraiser, this is it.”
The field consisted of 32 teams of three. There were 14 teams with affiliation to the Ithaca City School District, teams from Cornell and other community organizations within the Ithaca area. On top of the spellers, members of IPEI and volunteers, more than 300 spectators filled the Ithaca High Wellness Center to the brim, creating a fun and welcoming community atmosphere.
“Even four years ago, people would trickle in and out and the stands weren’t completely filled,” said Julie Langenbacher, IPEI’s Assistant to the Director. “We are at the point now where we need coat racks, we need tons of chairs on the floor of the gym and we need greeters to help manage the traffic and point people in the direction they need to go.”
The Bee had a new format this year. The 32 teams were divided into four groups of eight, setting up four rounds where the spellers were given a white board and 30 seconds to spell the same word as their opponents. Each team was eliminated after their second misspelled word. One team advances from each round, placing the final four in the championship round. The new format was created to make the competition as fair as possible.
“Some words were just easier than other words, so there was the issue of equality,” said Biloski. “The new format should pick up pace of play, as well as addressing the fairness issue.”
The new format catered very well to the strengths of the Hexaplexes, as they did not misspell a single word, outperforming even some of their own expectations.
“I remember hoping that we would win our round, so I was thrilled that we did and thought I could go home happy,” said Nussbaum.
While raising money for IPEI grants is at the forefront of the event, it also impacts the community in other positive ways. Bringing people together for a purpose, says Chao, makes people more prideful in their district.
“If there was pizza and a silent auction alone without a Spelling Bee, it would not be as community bonding,” Chao said. “The community comes together. It makes everybody proud to be associated with Ithaca, our school district and IPEI.”