Salt Lake County spelling bee is back on
After lack of funds spells doom for S.L. County contest, sponsors prove:
Published: January 27, 2014 05:47PM
Updated: January 27, 2014 09:17PM

Dictionary-loving, spelling specialists rejoice: Salt Lake County will have a spelling bee after all.

Two companies have agreed to sponsor a countywide spelling bee and pay for a winner to travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Overstock.com and the law firm Hall Prangle and Schoonveld LLC will foot the bill and organize the event.

“I loved the spelling bee when I was a kid, and it was just heartbreaking to me to think that the entire county might not be able to participate in the bee,” said Tawni Anderson, a partner at the law firm, which is based in Chicago but has offices in Salt Lake City. “I said, ‘Let’s do this as a firm project.’”

Jonathan Johnson, executive vice chairman of Overstock.com, said sponsoring the bee felt like “a good way to be involved in the community.”

It’s an agreement that happened just in time for Salt Lake County word fanatics.

Normally, schools hold spelling bees in the fall and winter, and the winners then advance to regional competitions before heading to the national competition in May.

But as of the second week of January, the Salt Lake County spelling bee still had no sponsor. The deadline for schools to enroll for the bee nationwide was mid-December, or, in some cases, the end of January this year. Schools cannot enroll without a regional sponsor.

Now that sponsors have come forward, Salt Lake County schools will be allowed to enroll until Feb. 14 and pay the regular fee of $120 per school, rather than the late fee, said Abi Evans, sponsorship and operations manager for the national bee.

Marilyn Taft, a fifth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary in Salt Lake City, said she enrolled her school first thing Monday morning. Her school wasn’t going to hold a bee until news of the sponsorships arrived. She said students cheered Monday when the principal announced the bee was back on.

“The students are very excited,” Taft said. “I was surprised at how disappointed they were when the bee was cancelled. I believe sometimes you don’t know how important something is until it’s gone.”

She said Hawthorne now plans to hold its schoolwide bee Feb. 27.

Anderson said the two companies have not yet chosen an exact date for the countywide spelling bee, but plan to hold it the last week of March. Regional bees must be held by then in order for their winners to be eligible to compete in the national bee, Evans said.

Anderson said she began looking into sponsoring the event after The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this month about the lack of sponsorship this year.

Chris Kemper, a national spelling bee spokesman, said about five to 10 companies and organizations contacted Scripps about hosting the bee after seeing the article. A number of individuals also expressed interest in sponsoring the bee, but Scripps prefers to let organizations sponsor the events for the sake of continuity, Evans said.

“It’s something I think everyone wants to be a part of,” Kemper said, “and it’s certainly important for every community to have their speller they can rally around and cheer for.”

Last year, Utah’s Vismaya Kharkar, a 14-year-old from Bountiful, made it to the final five of the National Spelling Bee.

Carbon, Emery, Grand, Davis, Juab, Sanpete, Utah and Wasatch and San Juan counties also have sponsors. In recent years, The Valley Journals had sponsored the Salt Lake bee, along with other businesses, but the Journals dropped sponsorship this year after having increasing trouble attracting co-sponsors.