State’s Oldest Continuous Spelling Bee Set for Feb.

by Blake Herzog

The 75th annual Yavapai County Spelling Bee is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Yavapai College’s Prescott campus, carrying forward a tradition that’s brought generations of students and families from both sides of Mingus Mountain together for some friendly orthographical (spelling) competition. 

The event, Arizona’s oldest continuous spelling bee, will be held in the college’s community room at 1100 E. Sheldon Road, with the contestant check-in beginning 11 a.m. and the competition starting at 1 p.m. 

Such an event takes a considerable amount of time and planning to put together, especially considering the number of bees that must be held along the way. School bees are being held throughout the fall and winter, and the 25 school districts within Yavapai County hold theirs in January. 

Jenn Nelson, the county spelling bee coordinator and an administrative assistant for Yavapai County Education Service Agency, says 30 to 50 students enter the competition each year, and the word lists for all school, district and the county bees are sent to the county by the Scripps National Spelling Bee headquarters. 

Students can use the lists at www.spellingbee.com to study for their school, district and county competitions. 

2020’s winner of the Yavapai County competition was fourth-grader Aliyah Alpert, 9, who won $300 and a ceremonial plaque but was unable to advance to the state level when that competition was canceled due to the pandemic. She also won in 2019 and took second place in 2018, when she was just a second-grader. 

These events tend to be known for briefly elevating seldom-used, difficult words from obscurity, but there’s also the matter of the tiny word at the center of it all — why are they called “bees?” 

Originally thought to be inspired by the industrious insect, it turns out the word is most likely rooted in the Middle English word “bene,” used to describe “voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task,” according to www.merriam-webster.com. This definition also survives in terms like “quilting bee” and others.