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They say you never forget your first pet or your first kiss — or, apparently, your first spelling bee.

But you can certainly try to re-create those thrills — although, to be honest, I would rate the pet and the kiss somewhat higher than the thrill garnered from standing in front of a microphone and trying to correctly spell a word you’ve never heard before. (But what do I know? I washed out of my third-grade spelling bee, which likely will not surprise many of my faithful readers.)

In any event, dozens of fearless spellers voluntarily elected to try it again last Jan. 31 at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library’s first “Sip & Spell,” a spelling bee for adults staged at the Old World Deli. I was delighted to be selected to serve as the event’s emcee, primarily because that meant I didn’t have to actually compete in the bee. (That third-grade trauma still stings.)

Going into the bee, the team of library organizers and volunteers who did all the real work for the event (special props to reference librarian Bonnie Brzozowski and folks from the Friends of the Library) had no idea how many contestants to expect.

But the bee ended up attracting nearly 80 spellers — and photographer Andy Cripe, who helped to document the event for the Gazette-Times, told me that many of the participants had been victorious in previous bees.

That was borne out in the first round, which did not eliminate nearly as many contestants as we thought it might. This caused considerable consternation, since we had told Old World Deli owner Ted Cox that we would be done at a decent hour.

But we shouldn’t have been surprised that a spelling bee for mid-valley adults would attract not just some thrill-seekers but also some really good spellers — and, come to think of it, the two traits probably are somewhat related.

As we went through the rounds, a few thoughts occurred to me:

• Spelling is hard. It’s hard enough when you have access to a dictionary, but to be able to correctly picture a word in your brain without any such visual aid and then to correctly spell the word aloud in front of about 100 people — well, that’s tough, even with allegedly easy words.

• Spelling after a few adult beverages is even harder. Enough said about that.

• Spelling a word that you’ve never heard of before is even harder — and yet, a number of our contestants did exactly that. There are limits, though, and my heart went out to the woman who realized she had a lost cause and chose to spell her word with just three letters: W, T and F. This spelling turned out to be incorrect, but it still drew a big laugh and a round of applause.

In fact, the crowd last Saturday night was considerably more supportive than that third-grade rabble I remember so vividly — and I didn’t notice many people leaving, even after they had been eliminated.

After more than two hours, the winning word – the rules of the bee require the sole survivor (in this case, Karen Luchessa, a former biology teacher) to spell one additional word) — came down to this: “springbok.” Crowd members groaned good-naturedly — a sign that they thought the word was too easy.

Maybe. But you try it. After a couple of hours of gut-wrenching spelling challenges — and a few adult beverages.

If you’d like, try it next year. (mm)

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Mike McInally is editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and the Corvallis Gazette-Times. In his third-grade spelling bee, he was eliminated for failing to capitalize "Santa Claus."


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