Characters from the “Wizard of Oz” got rowdy, sang and danced their way through a packed house Tuesday at the Green Acres Baptist Church Crosswalk Conference Center.
But they weren’t there to follow The Yellow Brick Road, find the wizard and get Dorothy back to Kansas.
This group of Mentoring Minds employees came to cheer on their two spellers in Tyler’s 23rd annual Corporate Spelling Bee.
“We’re off to see the spellers. The wonderful spellers of words,” sang Dorothy and her gang.
And they weren’t disappointed, because Mentoring Minds not only won the bee but took home the spirit trophy.
The spelling bee raises funds for the Literacy Council, which offers free educational services to adults seeking to improve their basic reading, writing, and/or math skills. It also helps them prepare for GED testing or learn English as a second language.
According to a testimonial video during the event, 51 percent of adults in East Texas are functionally illiterate.
The event has a theme each year and encourages guest to dress in costume. This year’s theme was Broadway musicals.
Rydell High’s Pink Ladies and T-Birds were also prominent during the event. Guests also dressed as characters from “The Lion King,” “Newsies,” “Stomp” and “Rock of Ages.”
Ellen Krafve, director of development for the Literacy Council of Tyler, said this year’s fundraiser was a “record in every way.”
Proceeds from this year’s event totaled $65,000 before the event. Krafve said she expects a total of $67,000 after additional checks are counted.
“That’s amazing,” she said. “The most we’ve ever gotten was $60,000 for this event.”
The goal was $50,000.
Krafve described the event’s success as “mind-boggling.”
“We are told in the fundraising world that events have a seven-year cycle. This has been around 23 years,” she said. “It’s a really unique culture, and there’s a lot of loyalty from the participants.”
In addition to record-breaking funds, the event had 17 teams competing for the trophy. Each team had two participants.
Mentoring Minds’ representatives Paula Jones and Jennifer Mallios became this year’s spelling bee champions after out-spelling the Tyler Morning Telegraph’s representatives Tom Mitsoff and Vanessa Pearson in the final round.
This was the second time Jones and Mallios competed in the event. They both agreed that the words were harder this year, underscored by team carnage in the first two rounds.
“The first few words, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we might be in trouble,’” Jones said.
She said not much preparation was done before competing in the event.
“We just kind of did a little last-minute studying in the last couple of days,” Jones said. “It’s more about the cause than it is the spelling, and we just want to have a good time.”
Five teams were eliminated during the first round, and nine teams walked off stage after the second round.
Ingersoll Rand/Trane was the first team eliminated, earning them the Joey award, which is given in honor of former Tyler mayor Joey Seeber, who misspelled a word in the first round at the first spelling bee.
The 17 teams who competed were: Booher Engineering, Brookshire Grocery Co., Henry and Peters, Ingersoll Rand/Trane, Leigh Oliver’s, Meadow Lake Senior Living Community, Mentoring Minds, Prothro Wilhelmi, South Tyler Rotary, Southside Bank, Suddenlink-Midsouth, Suddenlink-Texoma, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics, Tyler ISD, Tyler Junior College, Tyler Morning Telegraph and Wilson, Robertson & Cornelius Law Firm.
David Stein, president of Office Pride at East Texas, served as this year's emcee.
The judges were George Faber, director of visual and performing arts at Tyler ISD, Vel Williamson, director of development for East Texas Symphony Orchestra, and Donald Duncan, Tyler Civic Chorale director. Mike Harper, KVNE station manager, served as timekeeper and Mike Starr, attorney at Coghlan Crowson, LLP, was the pronouncer.
Mentoring Minds also nabbed the spirit award for their “Wizard of Oz” costumes, chants and songs.
Brooke Tran, representative from Mentoring Minds, said the company has a committee that coordinates the costumes, chants and songs. She said they also practiced three times before the event.
The star student award was presented to Dilia Salvador, a former Literacy Council student. She graduated from Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler.
“Literacy Council has given me the opportunity to achieve my dreams,” Dilia said during a testimonial video. “I want to inspire other people who have dreams but stop dreaming because they think it’s impossible.”