Adults battle in spelling bee


Missy Molleston lifted the trophy, adorned with a golden, bespectacled bee, above her head in triumph.

After more than two hours of sustained tension, the audience erupted into applause. Her team, the Kirkwood Killer Bees, had just won the Iowa City Public Library Spelling Bee.

“I feel sick the whole way through, then we win, and it feels nice,” Molleston said.

The Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation hosted the 14th-annual event Thursday at the library, 123 S. Linn St., as fundraiser. The spelling bee has drawn in more than $60,000 in donations since its inception, and the number of participants has steadily grown.

Local businesses sponsor a three-person team for $375 if they provide their own spellers, and $450 if the library has to find volunteers. Nine teams participated this year.

Director of Development Patty McCarthy said businesses have good incentives to sponsor a team.

“Many of our sponsors consider it to be good stunt money because it goes out [on TV] over and over again,” she said.

Hands Jewelers sponsored the event with a $1,000 donation. Store owner Bill Nusser, who MC’d the bee for the 13th-consecutive year, said the pressure of participating sometimes had an odd effect on spellers.

“People get very agitated,” he said. “People who are very calm and collected get nervous.”

An engrossed crowd — which filled the meeting room to capacity — participated in an audience spelling bee between rounds. Spectators often held pads or other slips of paper on which they scrawled their best guesses on words presented to the teams.

Spelling judge Sheldon Kurtz, a UI Law professor, didn’t hesitate to offer his services for a fifth year.

“When the library calls, you come down,” he said.

Dan Daly, a member of the Phelan Tucker Spellers team, said he enjoyed the friendly competition.

“It’s a fun thing to play, and it’s [for] a good cause,” the 58-year-old said.

His team won the bee last year, and before the event, he was pragmatic about the odds of edging out the eight other teams this year.

“I think we have at least a one in nine chance,” he quipped.

Ultimately, “infinitesimal” eliminated the Phelan Tucker Spellers, leaving the Kirkwood Killer Bees to contend with the Iowa City Press-Citizen Spellers. After the Press-Citizen team misspelled “scaup,” the Killer Bees correctly spelled the same word and followed it with an accurate “C-A-T-A-R-R-H” for the win.

“I knew that word, so I was lucky,” said Killer Bee Bart Brown. His team has now won the bee six times, four more than any other team.

Though Brown attributed some of the victory to luck, Molleston said a lifetime love of language propelled her success.

“I just like spelling,” the library assistant said. “I’m geeky.”

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