Students and adults across the city convened at the Yale School of Management on Friday evening to test their ability to spell words such as “beleaguer” and “kibitzer.”

New Haven Read’s sixth annual Spelling Bee drew a crowd of more than 200 local residents to the SOM’s Zhang Auditorium and featured 42 three-person teams of local high schoolers and older community members. In anticipation of Halloween, many contestants dressed in group costumes, often in conjunction with team names such as “Spelling Swords” and “The Aunt Bees.”

“It’s always great fun, there’s always great energy,” said Jill Savitt, co-chair of the Spelling Bee. “It’s an event that raises awareness of New Haven Reads, because we do need more tutors.”

All the proceeds from the event will support the New Haven Read’s literacy programs, which are offered to more than 500 children in the New Haven area. The program also runs a book bank that has more than 130,000 books.

The event was hosted by Keith Kountz, who currently anchors both “Good Morning Connecticut” and the noon news for WTNH. The judges were Ray Andrewsen, general manager of Quinnipiac University’s commercially licensed community radio station, state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, and Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins.

The bee began with six preliminary rounds, each consisting of a field of seven. The winning team in each of these competitions advanced to the final round.

The final round saw participants from the Yale Department of Linguistics, the Yale Center for British Art, Squash Haven and the Hill Regional Career High School. After spelling “impasse,” “dysphagia,” “bourgeoisie” and “quokka,” the winner was the “Stellar Spellers,” the only team to spell “quokka” correctly.

The night ended with various team prizes for competitors — for best team name, best costume, best team spirit and a trophy and medals for winners of both the high school round and the overall competition.

Attendees were also given the opportunity to participate throughout the evening. In a written audience Spelling Bee, guests were asked to spell five of the most commonly misspelled words such as “acquaintance” and “chauffeur.” Those who successfully spelled words were entered in a raffle.

Daniel Kaylor ’20 participated in the Spelling Bee with a team from the Yale linguistics department, a finalist for the championship. He said his team prepared with online word lists and practice.

Although Kaylor is not currently a volunteer for New Haven Reads, he said the event sparked his interest in the organization. He praised the energy and the excitement in the auditorium, as well as all the attendees’ passion for New Haven Reads.

“[The Spelling Bee] actually got me interested in volunteering for [New Haven Reads],” Kaylor said. “I think everyone there was actually pretty passionate about New Haven Reads, even if they were just in the audience.”

For Kirsten Levinsohn, the executive director of New Haven Reads, the spelling competition is an important event to promote the organization and to draw volunteers. Levinsohn said that there are always at least 100 children on New Haven Reads’ waiting list and that the organization is always searching for new volunteers.

“This is our community,” she said. “Let’s work together to make New Haven a city that reads and … help our children achieve their dreams.”

According to Fiona Bradford, the assistant director of New Haven Reads, the Spelling Bee is the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser of the year and brings in approximately $30,000. Those funds are much needed, especially in light of possible cuts to their state funding, Levinsohn said.

“It is our signature fundraiser, and we feel that it is closely connected to our mission,” Bradford said.

New Haven Reads was founded by Christine Alexander in 2001 as a book bank.

Isabel Bysiewicz |