The Irvington Town Hall Theater was packed on Friday, January 29th, with eager spelling aficionados there to witness the passion, drama, and intrigue that made up the 4th Annual Friends of the Irvington Library Spelling Bee. These “Bees” have historically proven to be a night to remember, complete with displays of intellectual prowess, madcap comic nuttiness, ruthless conflict, and the occasional dancing girl. This year’s Bee was no exception.
The evening began innocently enough. The cast of the Broadway Training Center’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee performed as the crowd found their seats. After the performance, which got the crowd pumped and primed for all things spelling, the main event began. Master of Ceremonies, Expert Enunciator, FOX News Anchor, and local celebrity, Jon Scott, took the stage, stated the basic rules and introduced the players. What followed were five initial rounds of cutthroat competition between 22 teams of three spellers each.
The rounds sped by. As soon as Scott completed his perfect pronunciation and expert enunciation of each word, markers frantically scribbled on dry erase boards, answers were hoisted over heads, and the three judges held court. The judges’ responsibilities included timing the rounds, judging the spellings, and ultimately announcing which incorrect spellings meant elimination and which were worthy of another round.
The early rounds were full of surprises. In fact, in the very first round, defending champs, The Otherworldly Women, were quickly eliminated from the competition, drawing a collective gasp from the crowd. Word after word was tossed out like a gauntlet at the competitors’ feet, and time and again teams would reach deep into their grey matter to pull out the correct spelling of words like beleaguer, liaison, fennec and pickelhaube.
Emcee Scott kept the pace of the evening frantic yet focused, verbally needling the contestants and judges from time to time, and keeping the crowd engaged and entertained. His light-hearted banter was a much-needed reprise from the constant tension of the grammatical war on stage as individual players, sweat dripping down their faces, laid down their brains, vulnerable for all to see. As each round came to a close, teams carried their verbally wounded away. Eventually, a single winning team was sent on to the final round.
So as to not lose site of the true purpose of the evening, that being a fundraising event to support and promote the Irvington Public Library and the cultural interests of the people living in and near the village of Irvington, six prize baskets were raffled off, each one packed with multiple treasures donated by local merchants. The centerpiece of the evening was a very special silent auction. Up for bid was a basket containing all four of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books signed by the author, Jeff Kinney, plus the opportunity to speak with him directly, via phone, at the convenience of the winning bidder and Mr. Kinney.
Introducing the silent auction was Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who took the opportunity to praise the community for creating this very special event. “Know that what you are doing here, I wish could be replicated all over the State and all over the country. You have an interest that will repay not only your community but the entire society a thousand-fold.” She noted, “What you do here tonight underscores the meaning of what libraries can bring to all of us. And, in these times, supporting your local library is probably the best thing you can do for the economy.” The silent auction will continue through the month of February. For more information go to http://www.friendsoftheirvingtonlibrary.org.
The final round of competition included the winning teams from the previous five rounds in a heart-stopping war of literary supremacy, which turned out to be the longest round of the night. Each team was capable of victory, each team consisted of true warriors but, in the end, there could only be one winner. In the end, by successfully spelling the word ageusia, meaning “the inability to taste sweet, sour, bitter or salty substances,” The Bee Train, consisting of Stephanie Plaut, Marion Asnes, and Jonathan Moskin, pulverized their competition, leaving them blackened and bloody on the battlefield, and went on to claim the ultimate prize – the Championship of the 4th Annual Friends of the Irvington Library Spelling Bee.
The Bee Train would be wise to savor their victory while they can. However, they now have a massive target on their back, and a price on their heads; the 5th Annual Friends of the Irvington Library Spelling Bee is less than a year away.