Students at Metro schools — and surrounding Nashville-area counties — might be unable to participate in the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee, first held in 1925 and recognized as the nation’s longest-running education promotion.
To compete at the national event in Washington D.C. — televised on ESPN — competitors must first win local bees before emerging victorious at regional events. At the moment, however, a regional bee for Middle Tennessee students lacks a sponsor.
Without a sponsor, there is no regional spelling bee. And without a regional bee, the top area speller can’t make it to the national event, leaving him or her watching from the sidelines.
“If we do not have a regional sponsor, our students who could possibly have an opportunity to go to the National Spelling Bee would not have that opportunity,” said Jill Flaherty, Metro schools’ coordinator of English, language arts and world languages.
Historically, The Tennessean has served as the Middle Tennessee regional spelling bee’s sponsor, according to Flaherty. She said the event costs $5,550 to sponsor each year — $1,050 goes toward sponsoring the event and another $4,500 is directed to the winner and family for traveling and lodging at the national competition.
Bee contestants cannot be older than 14.
“The Tennessean has done it in the past, but they have opted out this year,” Flaherty said. “It’s my understanding they had done this for a while.”
Bob Faricy, The Tennessean’s vice president of market development, confirmed the Gannett-owned publication would not be sponsoring the regional bee. He said the newspaper informed regional bee organizers last summer.
“It’s not too complicated,” Faricy said. “We've obviously enjoyed working with the regional spelling bee. We’ve been very honored to sponsor a kid, a child to the National Spelling Bee on an annual basis.
“But at the end of the day — right now — we’ve decided that both the time it takes to put that on and the expense it takes to put that on is something we can’t [devote] any longer.”
In an email, he added The Tennessean’s primary focus is to “deliver the most complete and credible local news and information, across many platforms, every day.”
Faricy estimated total sponsorship ends up costing between $5,000 and $8,000.
The school district’s Flaherty said Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Company recently informed Metro officials The Tennessean had decided against sponsoring the 2012 regional bee.
Scripps’ Abi Evans did not immediately respond to an email.
In 2007, The Tennessean initially backed off from serving as the regional bee sponsor before electing to finance the event after further consideration.
If organizers land a sponsor, the regional bee would take place at Belmont University, the same venue that has hosted it in previous years. But Flaherty said a sponsor would need to step up soon. The application deadline for students to become eligible for the national competition is Oct. 17.
The 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee is slated for the spring. Dates for the local and regional events are scheduled accordingly. The regional bee typically occurs in February.