Education

Wake County Spelling Bee saved. Donations come in to fully fund competition.

Updated Oct. 8 with the developments.

The Wake County Spelling Bee has been saved after organizers say they raised enough money from donations to fully fund the competition in 2020.

Last month, Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education of Wake County sent out an alert saying that it needed to raise $7,500 by Oct. 15 or else it wouldn’t be able to hold the 2020 Spelling Bee. On Tuesday, the group announced it had covered all the remaining costs through individual donations and pledges from WakeEd Partnership, WRAL and Johnson Subaru.

At stake is a program that sends a talented speller on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Washington D.C. area each May to compete in the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“It’s for the kids,” said Crystal Whittenton, a member of the board of PAGE of Wake County. “For some kids, they live for that all year. They can win a $50,000 scholarship. For some kids, it just captures their imagination.”

This year, 562 spellers from around the world, included 18 from North Carolina, competed in the National Spelling Bee that ended in a historic 8-way tie.

Jason Sorin of Durham made it to the nationally televised finals and tied for 30th place. He had earned a spot after winning the Duke Regional Spelling Bee.

For a long time, Wake County students were cut out of the competition after The News & Observer and television station WRAZ withdrew sponsorship after 1997. But PAGE brought it back in 2011, when it agreed to be the main sponsor.

This year’s Wake bee drew 89 spellers from various elementary and middle schools.

Over time, Whittenton said the corporate sponsorships that helped support the event have declined. The lack of money prompted the group’s president, who has since resigned, to issue a public call for donations on Sept. 17.

Heading into this week, PAGE had raised enough money to sign a contract with Scripps to host the 2020 regional bee at N.C. State’s McKimmon Center on March 14. Next year’s bee will be expanded beyond Wake to include spellers from Franklin, Hoke, Sampson, Vance and Wayne counties.

But until this week PAGE said it was in danger of having to cover the remaining costs in 2020 out of its own budget, which meant the group wouldn’t be able to hold it in again in 2021.

“We don’t want the existence of the Spelling Bee to hinge on one volunteer and just one sponsor,” Whittenton said.

Donate to save Wake County Spelling Bee

Go to https://www.wakepage.org/alert.html for more information on how to donate money to PAGE of Wake County to allow the group to keep holding the Wake County Spelling Bee.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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