The nearly 600 attendees at the Green Acres CrossWalk Center cheered for their team's spellers, dressed in costumes and blew whistles, kazoos and air horns as they vied for the coveted spirit award.
“I think people were more excited this year than I've ever seen,” Nancy Crawford, literacy council executive director, said. “They were really fighting for that spirit stick this year. That's really good to see.”
More teams were signed up to spell than ever this year, and ticket sales have not been counted yet. Mrs. Crawford said the event brought in $50,000 from sponsors and $3,000 already from the online auction, which ends today at 8 p.m. at www.biddingforgood.com/lcotyler.
In the state of Texas, 4 million adults need literacy council services, but only 150,000 get those services, Mrs. Crawford said in the promotional video shown at the event.
“It is not possible to describe a typical literacy council student,” Mrs. Crawford said in the video. “When we say people's lives are dramatically changed, we mean that seriously.”
The audience murmured at the difficulty of many of the words, some of them specific plants or animal names.
The annual award for a team that is disqualified in the first round went to Sam's Club this year. The annual award is given in honor of former Tyler mayor, Joey Seeber, who misspelled a word in the first round at the first spelling bee.
“If a mayor can do it, it's OK for you to do it,” Mrs. Crawford said with a laugh.
Michael and Lisa Lujan, founders of Mentoring Minds, were presented with this year's Golden Hive award, which recognizes significant contributions to the cause of literacy.
This year's event turned out to be one of the most entertaining yet, down to humorous comments from the spellers themselves.
“You asked me how I would spell it,” said Tyler Pipe representative, Pat Baldwin, when he was told he was incorrect. Tyler Pipe was the last contender against the winning team, Tyler Junior College.
Brenda Korich was on the team representing TJC, making this TJC's third consecutive win.
Ms. Korich said the group practiced three times a week for the past two weeks and she spent an average of five hours a day studying on her own.
“It's fabulous, it's unbelievable,” she said. “We're a new group, so there was a lot of pressure because of the last two wins from the group before. We were very concerned.”
But a three-year winning streak still doesn't make the other teams give up.
“We'll definitely try again next year,” said Jennie Walbert, spelling representative from Tyler Pipe.
Mrs. Crawford usually emcees the event alone, but Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith shared the responsibilities this year. At the end of this year's event, Smith recalled that he received his GED and degrees for Tyler Junior College and The University of Texas at Tyler “because somebody took an interest in me, like Nancy does,” he said.
“I have those degrees because someone took an interest and took the time — thank you for taking the time today.”