Sounding it out

Spelling Bee(r) brings a grade-school event to the bar scene

Stephen Sims hosts the Spelling Bee(r) at the Good Will Social Club, which combines elementary-school spelling bees with iced-cold suds. (Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black)

The age-old spelling bee will soon meet the age-older beer. That’s because on March 10, the Good Will Social Club is hosting the 27th Spelling Bee(r) competition.

The event will put 20 competitors head to head to see whose superlative spelling will prove victorious.

According to judge Tyler Sneesby (also known as DJ Hunnicutt), the spelling bee is a part of a host of events, such as throwback nights and science fairs, that allow adults to return to the arena of the elementary-school gymnasium with newfound wisdom and access to alcohol.

“It’s like the ’90s dance parties,” he says. “It’s like ‘Hey adults, come relive your grade-school years, but instead of dancing, come spell some words.’”

Sneesby organized the first Spelling Bee(r) at the Good Will in 2015 while he was working as the operations manager and looking for unique ways to bring people to the bar.

“People want experiences at bars that aren’t watching a sports game or dancing to a DJ or rock band,” he says. “The best experiences in bars are opportunities where people can just get together and engage.”

Sneesby enlists the help of host Stephen Sim to run the show. While Sneesby reads the words and judges whether they are spelled correctly, Sim does the back and forth with competitors, listing the origin of the word and using it in a sentence.

At first, Sim was skeptical about the potential of spelling for an adult audience, but once they began hosting the event, his mind was quickly changed.

“When we started, the spark of enjoyment just happened,” Sim says. “I didn’t think spelling words in a room would be fun, but every single word, there is suddenly tension in the room ... There are times when you can hear a pin drop.”

Sim emphasizes the role of human drama as providing most of the intrigue for those not spelling on stage.

“Each one of those people come up on stage, and they are vulnerable, and the audience gets to see that,” he says. “As soon as they are comfortable on stage, they shine, and they get to show their personality a little bit.”

Competitors at the Spelling Bee(r) run the gamut of skill levels from expert Scrabblers, to English majors, to doctors, to people who just wandered in and signed up on a whim.

“There are some really good spellers,” Sneesby says. “We’ve run out of words because two people just go back and forth.”

In order to prevent strong spellers from coming back every week, Sneesby and Sim create a rule where the top two participants cannot re-enter after that week. Instead, winners and runners-up are entered into the tournament of champions to then come back and see who is truly the greatest speller.

Despite the daunting nature of competitive spelling, Sneesby and Sim encourage everyone to give the Spelling Bee(r) a shot. It’s an opportunity to get up on stage, perform in front of an audience and have fun.

It might even be the opportunity to nail that one pesky word that haunted your ninth-grade self and show your English teacher how erudite you have become.

Registration for the March 10 Spelling Bee(r) is at 8 p.m. The bee itself starts at 9 p.m.

Published in Volume 77, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 9, 2023)

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