Island spelling bee promises fun for a good Vashon cause

Liz Hopper, Medea Karr and Katie Konrad, the “Dancing Queen Bees,” won last year’s “Spell It” bee. Above, they confer on a word. - File photo
Liz Hopper, Medea Karr and Katie Konrad, the “Dancing Queen Bees,” won last year’s “Spell It” bee. Above, they confer on a word.
— image credit: File photo

The audience held its breath as a trio of flamboyantly dressed nurse practitioners stepped forward to take the mic. They spelled “cachexia” correctly, and the Dancing Queen Bees were crowned champions of the 2009 “Spell It” Spelling Bee on Vashon.

The bee is a fundraiser for Vashon Community Scholarship Foundation, which doles out thousands in monetary scholarships to graduating Vashon High School seniors each year.

“The bee is really fun,” said Medea Karr, a member of last year’s winning bee team. “It’s a great opportunity to see people in the community in a different role from where you usually see them. And the words are crazy hard — it’s not like your fourth-grade spelling bee.”

Islanders’ participation in the fourth annual Vashon bee this weekend — either as a speller or an audience member — is critical, bee organizers said.

The scholarship foundation is hurting financially, with donations down significantly and its money market account faring poorly, said Ann Nicklason, a bee organizer.

From 2008 to 2009, its funds were down $30,000, she said. Though this year’s numbers are still growing, so far this year, interest in the spelling bee is lagging, she said, with some longtime spelling teams suffering “burnout” and taking a year off. Only a dozen teams have signed up to spell, compared to last year’s 20.

“We’re scrambling,” Nicklason said. The dips in scholarship donations and money market interest are “a sign of the times,” she added, but concerning for the community organization.

This year, the Vashon High School Class of 2010 has 113 seniors who are seeking scholarships through the community scholarship foundation — 18 students more than last year’s graduating class.

A tenet of the foundation is that every senior who seeks a scholarship by completing an application journal will receive at least one scholarship. But in times like these, with money dwindling, the foundation may be forced to give out fewer scholarships and less money, Nicklason said.

“We will have to tighten our belts,” said Melanie Salonen, a foundation board member who’s been involved with the spelling bee since its inception four years ago. “We are committed to making sure every student who puts together a notebook gets a scholarship, but we are going to have to tighten what those scholarships will be.”

She said the bee began as an alternative to a fundraising auction, which the foundation had held in years prior.

“We thought it was time to find something different that might be fun and unique,” said Salonen, who’s also the event’s “queen bee.”

Last year’s bee pulled in $5,000 for the foundation, and organizers have decided not to set a monetary goal this year.

“We just want it to be fun,” Salonen said. “We want people to look forward to this as not another fundraiser, but, ‘Oh, boy — a spelling bee.’”

Vashon pharmacist Tom Langland, whose team Volunteers for Decency came in second last year, said the event is an enjoyable and worthwhile one.

“It builds community spirit, and it supports the ongoing education of Vashon kids,” he said. “And it’s just a good time. Everybody’s up there facing our childhood memories. It’s a good cause, good fun and community camaraderie.”

“Spell It” takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Vashon High School theater.

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