County spelling bee in limbo
End of statewide competition leaves organizers with no place to send champ
The most important word this year for organizers of the Leavenworth County Spelling Bee may be "affiliation."
For the first time in decades, the county spelling bee is finding itself lacking affiliation with a regional or statewide bee. A consequence could be the county's spelling champion not getting an opportunity to compete beyond the Feb. 2 county contest at the American Legion hall in Leavenworth.
The prospect has Priscilla LoPresti, chairwoman of the Leavenworth County Spelling Bee, hurriedly seeking affiliation with a regional bee. Her hunt, so far, has come up empty.
"I can barely find a regional bee, let alone one that will take us," she said last week.
LoPresti's worries were spurred by the decision of the Topeka Capital-Journal, which is giving up sponsorship of the Kansas State Spelling Bee after 53 years.
The newspaper isn't, however, terminating its affiliation with the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Instead, it will sponsor a 26-county regional bee with the top prize of a weeklong trip to the national bee in Washington, D.C., for the winner and an escort.
But the Leavenworth County champion isn't eligible to compete in the Capital-Journal's regional bee.
Terri Benson, director of marketing for the Capital-Journal and the newspaper's contact for the regional bee, said the decision to go with a regional bee was made in October.
"We wanted to focus more on the children in our readership circulation area and to give the children in other parts of the state a chance to compete at a bee in their own area so they wouldn't have to travel to a statewide meet in Topeka," she said.
Benson confirmed Leavenworth County wasn't in the Capital-Journal's readership circulation area - which is defined by counties in which home delivery of the newspaper is available.
Other area counties also in the same situation include Wyandotte, Johnson and Doniphan. Douglas, Jefferson and Atchison counties are among the 26 counties in the newspaper's readership circulation area and thus eligible for the Capital-Journal's regional bee.
Benson pointed out bees for children outside of the 26-county area could seek sponsorships from local newspapers. The cost, she said, was in the neighborhood of $3,500 annually.
"Any newspaper can sponsor the national Scripps bee," she said, "whether it's a metropolitan newspaper with circulation in the hundreds of thousands or a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 500."
She said she was hopeful other newspapers around the state would do just that.
Last year, for example, The Olathe Daily News sent a local champion to Washington for the first time. Kevin Wright, managing editor of The News, said the paper would sponsor the bee again this year for children in the Olathe area.
Since the Capital-Journal made its decision, another regional bee has sprung up. The Iola Register will sponsor a bee for southeast Kansas students.
"I just thought it was just a good thing to do," said Susan Lynn, editor of The Register.
Lynn said she wasn't sure whether the paper could do it without the help of Karen Toland, the mother of two former Kansas state spelling champions from Iola.
"She said she would organize it for me," Lynn explained. "With her in my pocket, it's just going to be a lot easier, I'm sure."
Meanwhile back in Leavenworth County, LoPresti said she had been in contact with bee organizers in Doniphan and Wyandotte counties, neither of whom was sure of the future of their bees.
LoPresti continues to plan this year's Leavenworth County Spelling Bee, which is sponsored by the Leavenworth Area Retired School Personnel Association. The bee annually draws 45 to 50 participants from schools throughout the county.
She hopes it will continue, even if a regional bee for the Leavenworth County champion can't be found.
"I still think it's a worthwhile and rewarding experience," LoPresti said.