An artist’s rendering of the 2016 Son of a Bee spelling contest, when crowd favorite Payne Hanover defeated Lee Helm in the final round. (illustration courtesy of Thomas Eakins)
Blacktip Island’s 17th annual ‘Son of a Bee’ spelling bee is slated for this weekend at the Last Ballyhoo bar. The two-day event, sponsored by the Blacktip Adult Literacy Learning Society, will feature the island’s premier competitive spellers going head-to-head in double elimination rounds.
“It started years ago as a dare at the Ballyhoo,” BALLS president Doris Blenny said. “Someone bet an inebriated Dermott Bottoms he couldn’t spell ‘cat.’ Then they spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a’ while the crowd cheered. Dermott was so drunk he lost the bet, but other patrons started challenging each other to spell words as a gauge of how sauced they were.
“It proved so popular, the Ballyhoo made the spell-off a standard event the first weekend in December,” Blenny said. “BALLS stepped in with sponsorship, gave it a snazzy name and it took off from there.
“The Ballyhoo requires all contestants to consume one drink per 30 minutes, so we instituted a double-elimination format to level the playing field,” Blenny added. “In the later rounds alcohol can become an impediment. Or, for some, a performance enhancer.”
Perennial favorites are Jerrod Ephesians, Finn Kiick and reigning Son of a Bee champion Payne Hanover.
“I’ve been practicing buzzed spelling for months to find that sweet spot where I’m toasted but can still spell,” Hanover said. “It’s easy to have that one drink too many and fall over the cliff.
“The strategy’s in knowing your opponent’s alcohol tolerance,” Hanover added. “Against a lightweight, sometimes if you hem and haw before spelling each word, the booze’ll win the round for you. But if you draw Antonio, you’re screwed. He gets better the more he drinks.”
The judges’ subjectivity often plays a key role in the competition.
“Last year Lee Helm may have spelled ‘perspicacity’ correctly in the final, but he slurred so badly two of the three judges scored him wrong,” judge Helen Maples said. “It cost him the match.”
Sponsors are hoping for a controversy-free Bee this year.
“Two years ago, Finn had to give up the title after we found out he bribed Peachy Bottoms for the vocabulary words beforehand,” Blenny said. “The year before that, there was no winner because all finalists had passed out before the final round.”
Bee officials say they’ve also beefed up security for this year’s event.
“It’s a two-day drinking event on a small island, Things can get physical,” Last Ballyhoo owner Marlin Bleu said. “Sometimes onlookers takes sides and quite the brouhaha breaks out.”
Proceeds from the event go to BALLS and the Last Ballyhoo repair fund.