Lori McDaniel couldn’t use a pencil to write out words as she spelled them aloud, so she finger “wrote” on the palm of her hand instead.
The technique worked.
McDaniel, who works in public relations for Dalton Utilities, outlasted 14 other competitors in the Whitfield Education Foundation’s first Celebrity Spelling Bee Tuesday night, going 33 rounds before finally winning on the word “delicatessen.”
A self-described “word nerd,” McDaniel attended Varnell Elementary, North Whitfield Middle and Northwest Whitfield High School in Whitfield County and graduated from Berry College. She has spent her career in public relations.
Spelling bee contestants and others sold tickets to the contest and collected donations that organizers said will go toward funding grants the foundation gives to help teachers pay for special projects for their students each year.
The bee drew at least a couple hundred people, and Whitfield Education Foundation Director Mary Ellen Kinsey said she expects it will become the organization’s premier fundraising event. Kinsey didn’t immediately know how much the bee raised because organizers were still counting contributions after the bee ended.
It was a humor-filled contest, lasting well over an hour-and-a-half. Also competing were Cherri Robertson of Alfa Insurance, Dalton City Administrator Ty Ross, J&J Industries executive and Whitfield Board of Education Chairman Louis Fordham, Sara Davis of the Dalton Whitfield Murray Retired Educators Association, Joe Yarbrough of Mohawk Industries, community advocate Naomi Swanson, Dan Combs of State Farm Insurance, Dalton State College basketball coach Tony Ingle, attorney Greg Kinnamon, co-city editor Jamie Jones of The Daily Citizen, Whitfield County Commissioner Lynn Laughter of Laughter & Jones Financial Management, Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Brian Anderson, Georgia United Credit Union chairman and state Rep. Tom Dickson and David Aft of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia.
Emceed by David Carroll of Chattanooga’s WRCB-TV, the bee began with easy words like “off” and “away” and slowly advanced to trickier trials like “quirky” and “primitive.”
A couple of contestants intentionally misspelled their words to bow out early, and several more, including Jones who went out on “subsequent,” realized their mistakes as soon as the wrong letters left their mouths.
Throughout the contest, competitors joked among themselves and sought the audience’s approval. For several rounds, Laughter found a way to work in a quip jokingly advertising her business until she finally went out in Round 14 on “incoherently.” Coach Ingle successfully spelled a host of words including “positive,” “amigo,” “arrest” and “isolation,” at which point he exclaimed excitedly that he couldn’t believe he was still in it. He lasted through Round 11.
Dickson, who was an educator in Whitfield County for 30 years, lasted through Round 13 when he finally succumbed on the word “succumb.”
By Round 15, only McDaniel, Kinnamon, Jones and Aft remained. Jones subsequently sat down in Round 19, and Aft left in the next round after a failed attempt at “impediment.”
McDaniel and Kinnamon then took turns jumping up and down from their seats for the next 13 rounds until Kinnamon finally misspelled “baccalaureate” followed by McDaniel correctly spelling “delicatessen.”
McDaniel nearly lost in Round 25 when she misspelled “caricature,” but under the contest rules, Kinnamon would have had to also correctly spell “coalescence” after that, which he didn’t do. McDaniel said after the contest she believed Kinnamon was the better speller and should have won. She received a gift basket with goodies donated by supporting businesses and a trophy she’ll get to keep for a year.
Kinnamon said he, like McDaniel didn’t study, and was just there to have fun and raise money for a good cause. Besides, he added, gesturing toward a several-inches-thick official dictionary, “No way you could study. Look at that dictionary.”