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Literacy Forsyth hosts its 19th annual Spell Check Live
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The members of team Miss Spelling Pageant, from Little Mill Middle School, prepare to spell their word in the second round of the 19th annual Spell Check Live event. - photo by Alexander Popp

The Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College was a hive of activity on Thursday as members from the local community tried their hardest to spell impossibly-difficult words like sesquipedalian, obfuscate and grandiloquent while raising money for Literacy Forsyth at the 19th annual Spell Check Live event.

Seven teams of costumed spellers were slowly eliminated through three rounds of increasingly difficult words until the night was won by the South Forsyth Rotary Club Team, with the University of North Georgia Super Spellers placing second.

"It was an awesome success,” said Kari Shepherd, Literacy Forsyth Board Chair and Little Mill Middle math teacher. “I think people had fun, I think it was successful for Literacy Forsyth. So all in all, it was awesome.”

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Forsyth County Superior Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley, part of the winning team from the South Forsyth Rotary Club, stands and spells a word at the 19th annual Spell Check Live event hosted by Literacy Forsyth at the Forsyth Conference Center on Thursday night. - photo by Alexander Popp

Shepherd said that even though participants had time before the event to study the list of more than 300 words, she was surprised at how hard they were and how well the teams did.

“I'm telling you, those words were crazy hard,” Shepherd said. “… I'm an OK speller, but at one point I was thinking 'Are these made-up words?’”

And she wasn’t exaggerating. Through the entire contest, participants were peppered with a variety of unusual words, with just one chance to spell it right, unless you bought a $100 “charitable cheat” do-over card.

Even in the first round of spelling a team was knocked out of the running, when the Stellar Spellers from Brandywine Elementary were unseated by the word “scintillate.”

Later, the Miss Spelling Pageant team from Little Mill Middle School – wearing tiaras, holding bouquets of roses and wearing sashes with the words Miss Quoted, Miss Direction and Miss Understood – demonstrated their tactic of thinking as a group when they successfully spelled “boysenberry.”

 "We have two spellings, we're not super confident on either one of them," Miss Spelling Pageant team member Paul Smith said to the crowd before spelling the word correctly. 

After two rounds of the spelling bee and several eliminations, the event went into full-on trivia mode, with each table in the crowd competing to win raffle tickets for a number of different prizes like passes at Orange Theory Fitness, gift baskets and other goodies.

According to Literacy Forsyth Executive Director Pamela Burlingame, this year they thought that by adding in some trivia, prizes and continuing the pre-event social hour of drinks and dinner, they could engage better with the community, turning it into a night of fun for everyone, not just the participants.

"This year we've changed some things up, we're looking more towards getting the people so that they are having fun, we're going to add the trivia aspect, make it a little more of an upbeat event," Burlingame said. "And we're also raising funds with entry fees, sponsorships and other proceeds.”

Burlingame said that another important function of the night was to energize people about their mission to boost literacy in the county, remind people what services they provide and how volunteers can get involved.

"Our community support is really strong, but we are always looking for volunteers, that's always a struggle for us. But we have some really good supporting partners,” Burlingame said.

Literacy Forsyth, according to Burlingame, was started as a grassroots effort to address the problems of low literacy in the county by offering GED and ESL classes. Today, they are located off of Browns Bridge Road in northeast Forsyth and offer a number of different programs, including the Leap into Literacy Program that offers food, education and reading materials to families four times a year.

Burlingame said they are focused on tackling the issue of multi-generational low literacy in the county through programs like the Leap into Literacy event and the classes they offer.

In her words to the crowd, Shepherd spoke to that point, thanking the crowd for being a part of raising awareness of issues in the county.

"We are in the land of milk and honey here … you are sitting in one of the most successful counties in the country. We have pockets of poverty that … would astonish you,” Shepherd said. “These are the folks we are reaching out to.

"Tonight, we'll have a winning Spelling Bee team, raffle winners ...  But we hope that the biggest winner tonight will be the members of our community who benefit from the services that your generous donations of time and energy are providing us tonight."