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Volunteers hard at work on 2013 AARP National Spelling Bee

The year was 1996. AARP members from Chapters 310 and 3146 in Cheyenne, Wyo. decided they wanted a fun way to challenge their peers to keep their minds sharp as they age. The result? The AARP National Spelling Bee was born.

The spirit and structure of that first competition 18 years ago continues today spearheaded by a group of seven AARP members in Cheyenne who volunteer their time year-round to make the bee happen each year. They set the rules, select words, write sentences, promote the bee, and solicit prizes. On bee day, they are joined by about 25 other volunteers, who dedicate a summer day to grading spelling tests.

At the bee, spellers take a 100-word written spelling test, which narrows the field down to the top 15 spellers, who advance to compete in the afternoon’s oral spelling rounds. Much like the spelling bee for students, spellers verbally spell words into a microphone, but the AARP bee allows spellers to miss a total of two words before being knocked out of the running. Depending on the competition, the final few spellers may go head-to-head for many rounds before a winner is determined.

AARP opened an office in Cheyenne about 10 years ago. Inspired by the commitment of the volunteers, staff helped improve the registration system, move the event to a location with better acoustics and worked with volunteers to increase the prize packages. Today the AARP National Spelling Bee is a partnership between the volunteer members of AARP Chapter 3146 and staff in Wyoming and the national office.

“The bee is now broadcast live online and attracts a group of high caliber spellers,” AARP Wyoming Director Tim Summers said. “Watching the spellers tackle tough words really shows you that a healthy mind is capable of growing and learning regardless of your age.”

In response to requests from spellers, the event was expanded in 2010 to include a free brain health workshop called, Gray Matters: Training the Grownup Brain, where attendees can ask questions of brain health and aging experts. In 2013, the workshop and opening reception for spellers will be held July 12 at the Laramie County Library and the spelling bee on July 13 at Little America Hotel in Cheyenne.

First prize is $1,000. Second place receives $750 and third wins $500. It costs $40 to enter the bee before July 6, or $50 at the door. The entry fee includes the opening reception on Friday and a lunch for spellers on Saturday at the bee.

Interested in the bee? Watch this video of highlights from a recent bee at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuZUKFO0b5o or see volunteers, staff and spellers explain what the AARP National Spelling Bee means to them on our channel at YouTube.com/AARPSpellingBee and share the video clips with others who you think may be interested too.

Want to compete? Register now at aarp.org/spellingbee – you must be at least 50 years old on the day of the bee to compete, but you do not have to be an AARP member to enter.

Want to help organize the bee or set up a bee in your area? Contact us at spellingbee@aarp.org or 1-866-663-3290.

Would you like to see who will compete in 2013? Visit Facebook.com/AARPBee to see photos and read profiles of spellers who have already registered to compete. Not on Facebook? Use this link: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.458909947507246.114170.257648784300031&type=1&l=07ed17595b

Want to follow the bee? Follow us on Twitter @AARPSpellingBee.

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