Knoxville, Tenn. - For the first time, Knoxville will play host to the National Senior Spelling Bee at the Knoxville Convention Center on Saturday, July 12. More than 20 participants age 50 or older have been poring over the dictionary to prepare for the highly competitive event.

Grace Christian Academy math and physics teacher Scott Firebaugh brought the competition to Knoxville when the long-running spelling bee in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was in danger of disappearing after 18 years.
“Starting in 2006, I went five times and was the champion in 2010,” Firebaugh said. “After the 2013 event, the organizers had decided to stop doing it, so I decided to pick it up.”
Firebaugh completed the process of licensing the National Senior Spelling Bee as a nonprofit company and started getting the word out to fellow spelling enthusiasts. Several past competitors from the Cheyenne competition are making the trip to Knoxville to compete, and Firebaugh said there also are some new faces.

“We have spellers from California, Ohio, Texas, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, Alabama, Virginia, Kentucky, Minnesota and, of course, Tennessee,” Firebaugh said.  
Two participants were runners-up in the then-named Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee, now called the Scripps National Spelling Bee, including a Knoxville woman, Beth Sherrill, who placed second in the 1966 bee. Firebaugh participated in the national bee in 1967, placing 16th in the competition.

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. and entails three rounds of 20 words each. The 15 contestants with the highest scores advance to the live spelling round, which begins about 12:30 p.m.

Two-time winner Mike Petrina will be the pronouncer, and Tony Johnson, another two-time winner, will be the head judge. They worked together to select the words for the competition.
“I think it’s neat to work hard on something. It could be sports, spelling or chess,” Firebaugh said. “I used to study every day. To have success is a great joy. But even if you don’t get first place, there is the thrill of competition.”
The National Senior Spelling Bee participants prove that spelling is for all ages. The competition’s oldest contestant is an 86-year-old women from Athens, Tennessee, who was the winner of the McMinn Senior Activity Center’s spelling bee in June.
“I think spelling is good for your brain, especially as you get older,” Firebaugh said. “The English language is fascinating. I love learning new words and finding interesting patterns in words.”
Participation is open to all seniors over the age of 50. To register as a participant in the National Senior Spelling Bee, visit Registration is $50 and will be 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
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