'Elegiacal' end to annual spelling bee

Phyllis's Phriends (l to r) Kathy Soltis, Tony Thayer and Lindy Burt receive the trophy for winning the 21st annual Reaching Heights spelling bee. Photo by Kal Zucker.

It only took three rounds to eliminate 17 teams from the 21st annual Reaching Heights Adult Community Spelling Bee on March 28. The next three groups went in succession in the fourth round, leaving just one team—Phyllis’s Phriends—and one word: elegiacal.

Kathy Soltis, Lindy Burt and Tony Thayer, the three members of Phyllis’s Phriends, were crowned champions after spelling it correctly. Their winning word was apt. Representing the Noble and Oxford elementary schools' PTAs, the team was named in memory of Phyllis Albert, a beloved long-time teacher at Noble Elementary who died on March 1.

The annual spelling bee, held in the auditorium of Cleveland Heights High School, has become a community tradition. It raised about $15,000 for Reaching Heights, according to its executive director, Patrick Mullen. The organization’s mission is to mobilize community support for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights public schools.

The spelling bee was emceed, as usual, by Steve Presser, a Heights High graduate and owner of Big Fun on Coventry. Words were pronounced by Nancy Levin, director of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library. Among the many participants and audience members, the most frequent observation was the difficulty of words in even the early rounds.

The first elimination came late in Round 1, when the team representing Boulevard Elementary School stumbled on feldsher—a non-M.D. medical practitioner in Eastern Europe. The large and spirited cheering section of youngsters from Boulevard was undaunted; they continued to cheer remaining competitors throughout the bee.

The field was whittled quickly, with seven teams eliminated in Round 2 and nine in Round 3. The whole event was over by 8:45 p.m., less than two hours after it began.

Tom Schmida, who has taught for 40 years in the district and served half that time as president of the local teachers’ union, was honored at the event with this year’s Friend of Public Education Award. He will retire at the end of the school year.

Judges were Solomon Oliver Jr., chief judge of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Ohio; Tony Zupancic, assistant professor of English, communications and drama at Notre Dame College; and CH-UH Schools Superintendent Douglas Heuer.

Bob Rosenbaum

Bob Rosenbaum, a Cleveland Heights resident and Heights alumnus, was a member of the Heights Observer team, which was eliminated in Round 2 on sarsaparilla.

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Volume 5, Issue 4, Posted 6:39 PM, 04.02.2012