Surpassing last year's record of 609, this year 615 eager logophiles (n., "lover of words") will descend upon the Belmont High School gymnasium to put their spelling skills to the test in the Foundation for Belmont Education's 10th annual Spelling Bee this Saturday.
The contest will see students from kindergarten through fourth grade show off their skills in orthography (n., "the art of spelling"), while fifth and sixth grade students can compete in teams for the grand prize of a $100 savings account from Belmont Savings Bank. The event is free and open to the public.
"The event started off as a small friendraiser, and since I got involved it's just kept growing and growing," said Sharon Thomas, a member of the Foundation for Belmont Education's board of directors. "This year, with the combination of the student's entry fees and the 7 or 8 large corporate sponsors, we hope to raise about $20,000 for Belmont's schools."
Students will participate in teams, which are encouraged to dress creatively. Since there are so many teams, teams will be grouped together into swarms, with the younger swarms competing earlier in the day. Thomas said she expected the bee to continue until at least 9 p.m.
The event has become so popular that students from Belmont's private schools and even from out of town have started to compete, a trend that could be due to the growing popularity of spelling bees in popular culture, exemplified in films like 2006's Akeelah and the Bee and in the annual telecasts of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D. C.
"We're happy to have all the kids participate," Thomas said.
The bee will be hosted by Greg Stone of Stone Communications, a local media maven (n., "an expert") and three-time Emmy nominee for his history in broadcast news.
Additional information, such as word lists for the bee, are available on the Foundation's website. But Thomas warns that students in the competitive level will be asked to spell words that aren't on the list as well.
The event will feature tables by major sponsors as well as pizza and other refreshments for sale.
Last year's winning team, the two-time winners the Wacky Wasps, won for correctly spelling the word 'surveillance' (n., "close observation"), Thomas said. In previous years, winning words have included nauseous, treacherous, camouflage, and miniature.
This year, the Wacky Wasps can't compete, as they are now too old. It's anyone's game, including perhaps the Exterminators, a fifth-grade team made up of Bryan Huang, Joseph Yoon, and Max Serrano-Wu.
"This is my third or fourth year competing in the bee, and I really like it. I used to not be a very good speller in the second grade, but now I can just get up there and spell," Serrano-Wu said.
Serrano-Wu said the Exterminators, who plan to wear matching jeans and Red Sox hats, have been studying the word lists.
"The hardest word we've learned is 'pharynx' (n., "throat")," Serrano-Wu said. "I don't know what it means!"
He did, however, spell it perfectly.
Sarah Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.