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July 7, 2015

July 6, 2015

For additional information,
Contact: Amanda Shell Jennings
Moxley Carmichael
(865) 255-0661


The National Senior Spelling Bee is calling all word-lovers over the age of 50 to battle for a national title July 18 at the Knoxville Convention Center.

“We hosted the National Senior Spelling Bee in Knoxville for the first time last year and had a great time,” event organizer Scott Firebaugh said.  “We’re hoping to grow our numbers this year. I have heard from several contestants who have been studying all year, so I expect good competition right up to the end.”

Firebaugh, a math teacher at Grace Christian Academy, has a history as a spelling champion. He competed in spelling bees in his youth, even placing 16th in the then-called Scripps Howard Spelling Bee, now known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a ratings winner for ESPN.

Firebaugh became reengaged in spelling through the competition of his three daughters, who traveled to the national spelling bee four times, and later became involved in the National Senior Spelling Bee in Wyoming. Firebaugh was named the National Senior Spelling Bee champion in 2010.

When the senior spelling bee was in danger of disappearing after a national sponsor ended its support, Firebaugh licensed the event and transferred it to his hometown in Knoxville in 2014.

“We are excited to welcome this national event and its competitors back to Knoxville,” said Knoxville Convention Center General Manager Mary Bogert. “We appreciate Knoxville residents, like Scott, who consider Knoxville for events through their professional associations or recreational groups help us attract visitors to our city.”

Lauren Matz from Utica, N.Y., was the winner of Knoxville’s first senior spelling bee and will be the pronouncer of this year’s bee. Her winning word was “Hmong,” an ethnic group from Southeast Asia.

“We have several participants who were involved in spelling bees as children, some even competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee,” Firebaugh said. “This year, we have six former Scripps competitors involved in the bee, including last year’s winner, Lauren Matz, who placed second in the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee in 1972.”

A Knoxville woman, Beth Sherrill, who also is participating in the National Senior Spelling Bee, placed second in the 1966 Scripps event. Many participants, like Firebaugh, got involved through their children’s participation in spelling.

“I had never experienced the thrill of being up there firsthand,” said Tim Minnich, a first-time competitor from Virginia in last year’s bee. “I had always told my children what to do up there, but now I know what it feels like. I am super-psyched about this year’s bee!”

Competitors come from across the country and as far away as California. The oldest competitor at last year’s bee was 86 years old.

“There are many great benefits to joining the senior spelling bee,” Firebaugh said. “First, spelling is a great way to keep your mind sharp, especially as you get older. Studies have shown that word puzzles and spelling can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.

“Also, studying words is great fun, and you can look forward to great fellowship and fun with the competitors and attendees at our national event.”

Words for the National Senior Spelling Bee are taken from the 11th edition of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The written portion of the contest begins at 9:30 a.m. on July 18 and entails three rounds of 20 words each. The 16 contestants with the highest scores advance to the live spelling round, which begins about 1 p.m. Contestants have the chance to miss up to three words before being eliminated from the competition.

A cash prize of $1,000 is awarded to the top speller in the live round with $500 awarded for second place, $300 for third place and $200 for fourth place.

Participation is open to seniors over the age of 50. To register as a participant in the National Senior Spelling Bee, visit Registration is $40 if completed before June 30. Beginning July 1, registration will be $50 and is open until the morning of the competition. If registering the day of the competition, contestants should arrive by 9 a.m.

About the Knoxville Convention Center

The Knoxville Convention Center, managed by SMG, is located in downtown Knoxville adjacent to the Sunsphere. It boasts a 120,000 square-foot exhibit hall, a 27,000 square-foot divisible ballroom and multiple versatile meeting rooms. For more information, visit

About SMG

Founded in 1977, SMG provides management services to more than 230 public assembly facilities including convention and exhibition centers, arenas, stadiums, theatres, performing arts centers, equestrian facilities, science centers, and a variety of other venues. With facilities across the globe, SMG manages more than 15 million square feet of exhibition space and more than 1.5 million sports and entertainment seats. As the recognized global industry leader, SMG provides venue management, sales, marketing, event booking and programming, construction and design consulting, and pre-opening services for such landmark facilities as McCormick Place & Soldier Field in Chicago, Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, Houston’s Reliant Park and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. SMG also offers food and beverage operations through its concessions, catering and special events division, SAVOR, currently servicing 130 accounts worldwide. For more information visit