Why would grown adults dress up in costume, parade onto a stage and try to spell words? Well, we do live in Austin, but there is a greater good to consider: literacy.
We live in a world where literacy is a necessity. Helping people reach this goal is why Austinites dressed up in costumes for another year and participated in the Great Grown-up Spelling Bee last Tuesday evening.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I walked through the doors of the Zach Topfer Theater. The night turned out to be a blast. Volunteer workers dressed in their best bee-themed garb and assisted participants and fans. The corporate-sponsored teams huddled in small groups, strategizing, practicing, and psyching themselves up for the knockdown, drag-out war of words they’d soon participate in.
Once we filed into the theater, the Austin Babtist Women comedy troupe warmed up the crowd with song and dance. The Babtist Women have been entertaining Austin since 1986 and they were wildly entertaining. Just imagine five dudes, dressed as old church ladies, singing, lip-synching, and doing cartwheels across the stage. How could that not be entertaining?
After introductions, the Great Grown-up Spelling Bee got started. Ten costumed teams of three people each took turns spelling a word from the list. The announcer said the word, used it in a sentence, and then repeated the word. The team then had ten seconds to confer on how to spell the polysyllabic nightmare (they weren’t all hard).
When a consensus was reached or the timer ran out, a representative of the team would attempt the spelling. If they were confident they could not spell the word correctly, they were allowed a single mulligan. This turned out to be a gift and a curse, as some teams ended up wishing they tried spelling the original word.
If the team spelled the word correctly, they’d move on to the next round amidst cheers from the audience. If they got it wrong, they were shamed off the stage by two tuba players dressed as Mario and Luigi. Yes, dear readers, you read that last sentence correctly.
However, this isn’t the end for the rejected team. Since this was a fundraising event, guest emcee Senator Kirk Watson pointed out that a one-time donation of $250 would earn the team a do-over. Eventually, the teams were eliminated one by one, until the Dell Diamonds stood triumphant on the stage.
The $250 bailout program turned out to be a lucrative venture for the Great Grown-up Spelling Bee this year. In an announcement before the finals, Meg Poag, Executive Director of the Literacy Coalition, proudly announced that over the past four years, the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas has doubled the amount of people they’ve been able to help. This is a good thing, since over 160,000 people in Austin do not have GED’s, largely because of illiteracy or poor reading skills.
I admit that I’m naïve about illiteracy, but I still found those numbers surprising. In a day and age when print is literally everywhere, how can a person with poor reading skills get by? It’s not just people with learning disabilities, or a lack of consistent education. People who speak English as a second language also fall into this group.
Meg stated that people with better reading skills are less likely to rely on government assistance and commit crimes. They are more likely to pay less out of pocket healthcare and pay it forward to their children, who are more likely to go to college. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo (Honorary Chair for the event) reiterated the correlation between crime rates and illiteracy.
It makes sense. In a world where we increasingly rely on technology, we need to increase our literacy. Potential employees will require higher reading levels. Without reading and comprehension skills, what will people do?
The Great Grown-up Spelling Bee was fun, but it was also educational. Everyone had a grand time laughing, cheering and whooping it up with the teams. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small piece of a bigger picture – improving people’s literacy and comprehension.
If you want to participate or help the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas in any way, contact them through their website. In the interim, make plans to attend the Great Grown-up Spelling Bee next year.
How would you like to attend the Great Grown-up Spelling Bee?