Yale teams to get their G-A-M-E on at spelling bee

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Members of the nine teams from Yale competing in New Haven Reads’ first-ever adult spelling bee should know how to spell these words — along with a host of others — by Friday, Oct. 26, if they hope to bring home a top prize.

The spelling bee will take place 7–9 p.m. in Dodds Theater at the University of New Haven, 300 Boston Post Rd. in West Haven. WTNH-TV news anchor Ann Nyberg and meteorologist Matt Scott from News 12 Connecticut will serve as hosts for the event, which is free and open to the public, with a suggested donation of $5 at the door. All proceeds from registration and sponsorship fees, along all attendee donations at the event, will benefit New Haven Reads, a non-profit that promotes literacy and celebrates reading.

Among this year’s competitors from Yale are staff, faculty, and graduate students from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Medical Library, Police Department, Shared Services, the Asian Network@Yale affinity group, Yale Press, and the Yale College Dean’s Office. Competing against the Yale teams will be 33 other three-person teams representing various companies and non-profit agencies from around New Haven.

To prepare, each team has been provided with a 44-page suggested word list culled from the Scripps National Spelling Bee Consolidated Word List, Merriam-Webster Pronunciation Symbol Guide, and A Guide for Language of Origin.

“We’re thrilled by the community’s response,” says event co-chair Jenna Cluver.  “This is the first major fundraiser in New Haven Reads’ history. The spelling bee is closely related to our mission — to share the joy and power of reading. The goal is to raise funds for our programs, and highlight the impact, growth, and vision of the organization.”

According to Cluver, “some groups have split up the sample word list to study and prepare, while others have put their energy toward creating the best costume. We have at least five former spelling bee champs participating on teams. A few participants have made comments about hoping to redeem themselves after getting eliminated from their grade school bees many years ago — even remembering the words they misspelled.”

The two of the Yale competitors are, in fact, former regional spelling bee champs: Mary Miller, Yale College dean, and Joy McGrath, special assistant to the provost. They have joined with Ed Kamens, chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, to compete as team “Spellbound.” Miller says she felt compelled to enter because “New Haven Reads is an important organization for our city — one that transforms lives — and one I want to support.”

“As middle school students, both Joy McGrath and I were contestants at our regional Scripps Spelling Bees years ago,” says Miller. “Needless to say, we didn’t go to D.C. for the national bee. But she, Ed Kamens, and I are committed to accurate spelling  — and grammar! — in the era of spell check. We have lots of work ahead of us, and very little time. We’ll be reviewing the Scripps Spelling Bee list, trying to come up with a team costume that will engage with our team name:  Spellbound — a very good Hitchcock film, if not my all-time favorite.”

In addition to those participating as contestants, other Yalies are volunteering time on the spelling bee planning committee. Facilities associate project manager Carobe Hart, a member of the staff affinity group Asian Network@Yale (AN@Y), has spent time selecting words for the actual competition, and is glad to see the broad representation of languages.

New Haven Reads offers tutoring support for more than 500 area students.

“I am glad to see words from different cultural roots, including ones from India and Japan,” says Hart. “Although there is no saying which words will be used, I am impressed by the degree of diversity the planning committee has shown.”

Fellow volunteer and AN@Y member Tammy Wu, a science and engineering writer from the Office of Development, adds, “As a volunteer, I’ve experienced how New Haven Reads makes reading fun for children through its effective approach to literacy and education.  I’m so glad to see AN@Y and the affinity groups sponsor these teams, bringing the Yale community together in a strong show of support for children in Greater New Haven.”

Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins, who will serve on the judging panel for the spelling bee, has been “keeping track” of the spelling bee’s “word of the day” on the New Haven Reads website. He says, “I believe this event will both promote and celebrate literacy in our community. This is a wonderful way to challenge our youth, build their confidence, and empower them to achieve success.”

When asked whether it might be challenging to refrain from favoring fellow Yalies — including a Yale Police team — Higgins says, “Although it is true, I may know many of the participants, I don’t foresee any problems judging the competition fairly. I just hope they all know that spell check is not an option!“

About New Haven Reads

Founded in 2001 by the late Christine Alexander, wife of Yale vice president Bruce Alexander, New Haven Reads was originally established as a book bank. With support from the Yale Class of 1955, the non-profit quickly grew to offer tutoring support for more than 500 area students, with a waiting list of more than 200 students. For more information, visit newhavenreads.org.

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