Fran Anderson doesn’t attribute beginner’s luck to sweeping the 25th annual Blade Corporate & Community Spelling Bee.
Despite attending the event for about 15 years, Mrs. Anderson took part in the contest for the first time today in Toledo. She said it was her three teammates that propelled The Andersons to a first-place finish.
“I can’t believe we won,” she said shortly after the team accepted its trophy.
The real winner of the bee, however, was Read For Literacy, which uses the event as the primary fund-raiser for its adult- and child-literacy programs. The $54,780 raised this year surpassed 2011’s $49,870.
Thirty-six organizations and companies donated $53,650 before The Blade's bee at the Park Inn downtown Toledo. An additional $1,130 was raised at the conclusion of the contest.
About 39,000 adults in the greater Toledo area read at a level that’s on par with that of a fourth-grade student, said Jim Funk, executive director of Read for Literacy. The money raised at the bee is essential to helping those people learn to read well, he said.
“Anybody who reads at that level obviously is going to have a hard time getting a job, helping their kids with homework, or navigating society,” Mr. Funk said.
Read for Literacy teaches people to increase their reading comprehension through one-on-one coaching. About 1,200 of the organization’s 1,500 volunteers work with adults in the area.
The remaining 300 volunteers read to preschool and elementary school students. That allows children to learn new words and increase their understanding of the English language, Mr. Funk said.
“Parents pass their literacy levels on to children,” he said. “It’s exceptional when a child from a low-literacy household goes on to become fully fluent.”
The program also sends books home with children so their parents can read to them at night. Children who are read to on a regular basis do better in school, Mr. Funk said.
Elizabeth Sankowski, a children’s librarian at the Locke Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, was a member of the third-place team and said she didn’t expect to win. The team, which was funded by Ernst & Young, came to have a good time and support literacy, Ms. Sankowski said.
“We were shocked because we weren’t in the top,” she said of periodic announcements about the top-ranked teams.
One of the words that teams struggled with was "thalassographer," which means a person who studies oceanography, especially smaller bodies of water, such as bays, sounds, and gulfs. The word for a hard, chewy or brittle German Christmas cookie, usually flavored with honey and spices and containing nuts and citron - a "lebkuchen" - also proved to be challenging.
The library’s team, along with teams from The J.M. Smucker Co. and Spengler Nathanson, battled it out for second and third place. The three tied at the end of the contest. After a tiebreaker round, J.M. Smucker and the library tied once more, with J.M. Smucker eventually coming out on top with a second-place finish.
For the last tiebreaker, the two teams had to spell words associated with the number 25, including "cupronickel," layers of copper and nickel that compose a U.S. quarter, and "icosikaipentagon," which is a 25-sided shape.
Although the event brought out a competitive edge among the participants — noisemakers and cheers consistently rang out during the afternoon — it’s important to remember what the bee is all about: literacy, said Robert Scarlett, a technician at J.M. Smucker.
“It is a fabulous cause,” he said.
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