Aspen Youth Center spelling fundraiser returns for fifth and final year |

Aspen Youth Center spelling fundraiser returns for fifth and final year

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
‘Spell What?!’ 2016 speller Jimmy Yeager, host Vince Lahey, two-time defending spelling champion Robin Smith, and pronouncer Oliver Sharpe prepared for this year’s competition Wednesday afternoon.
Nancy Mayer/Aspen Sojourner | Courtesy photo

What do the words “soliloquy,” “phreatic” and “prosciutto” all have in common?

While they aren’t exactly fighting words, they have determined outcomes of Aspen Youth Center’s past spelling bees, i.e. who will be crowned the winner and who will go home a loser.

Aspen Youth Center’s Spell What?! competition and fundraiser returns Feb. 4 for its fifth and final year. While the youth center will still host its annual fundraising event in the form of a game show, next year it will not be a spelling bee, Aspen Youth Center executive director Keith Berglund said.

Berglund hinted that a trivia game may be in the near future but said it is still too soon to tell.

The Spell What?! spelling bee is Aspen Youth Center’s most significant fundraising event of the year, which typically generates about one-third of the organization’s annual revenue, Berglund said.

Berglund hopes this year’s spelling bee will raise $150,000 for the Aspen Youth Center.

This October marks 25 years for the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to provide children in the Roaring Fork Valley a safe place to connect, learn and grow after school and during the summer.

Locals Chris Davenport, Adam Frisch, Lori Pevny and two-time defending champion Robin Smith return as spellers for this year’s event, along with new participants Michael Miracle and Jimmy Yeager.

Criteria for selecting the spellers, Berglund said, are “local celebrities” who support Aspen Youth Center’s mission and are fun but also competitive.

“It’s a competitive group,” Berglund said. “Robin wants to defend that title … and I know (Chris) wants to win that trophy.”

“He remembers that he came in second,” Berglund said with a laugh, referring to Davenport’s 2012 and 2013 finalist positions.

“These are people that are very successful in town in their own field,” said Aspen Youth Center board President Oliver Sharpe. “And then you level the playing field by putting them in a spelling bee, which is what makes it so funny.”

Sharpe’s first involvement with the youth center was when the organization asked him to compete in the spelling bee in 2013, which he agreed to despite his “traumatic” recollection of misspelling the word “underwear” during a spelling bee in second grade.

It was when Sharpe went to claim his prize at the Aspen Youth Center that he said he was exposed to what all the organization does for local youth.

“I came here to pick up my trophy and started playing air hockey and foosball with the kids and just totally fell in love with it,” Sharpe said.

Today, Sharpe is in his second term as the Aspen Youth Center board president and was recently voted to serve a third term, said Aspen Youth Center development manager Michaela Idhammar.

Sharpe said what he loves most about the spelling bee as the youth center’s primary fundraiser is that it truly aligns with the organization’s mission.

“There are over 300 different organizations in the valley and so many galas,” Sharpe said. “In a town where we go to a lot of events, this one actually stands out.”