Historic structure to host its first-ever charity spelling bee

Words in next month’s spelling bee at Jamesport Meeting House will range from middle-school difficulty through adult level. Above are winning words from the National Spelling Bee. (Credit: Danielle Doll)

Blame it on the alcohol.

Phil Cardinale, an attorney and former Riverhead Town supervisor, was eating spaghetti and drinking merlot at Grana in Jamesport two weeks ago when his friends and fellow diners, Steve and Ellen Berger, told him they were hosting a first-ever community spelling bee May 23 to benefit the upkeep and restoration of the historic Jamesport Meeting House. 

Mr. Berger is a member of the Main Road landmark’s board of directors.

“They said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to participate?’ That’s how I got roped into it,” Mr. Cardinale joked. “I was three glasses of wine into the evening.”

Either way, Mr. Cardinale said he’s now committed to the event — and spelling bee organizer Kay Zegel, member of the board of directors at the meeting house, hopes other people, both young and old, will follow his lead by signing up.

“I just thought it was a cool thing to try, especially in that it would be something for families, for kids, for seniors — everyone,” said Ms. Zegel, who is also director of Mattituck-Laurel Library.

She doesn’t yet have figures for how many people have registered for the event but said spellers from Riverhead to as far east as Orient will participate. Spellers must pick up a registration form from the Riverhead or Mattituck-Laurel libraries and get someone to sponsor them for a minimum of $50. All proceeds go to the Jamesport Meeting House Preservation Trust.

“But it certainly isn’t about the money,” Ms. Zegel said. “It’s more about the event and the camaraderie.”

Jeff “Doc” Greenberger, a longtime Latin teacher at Riverhead High School, will moderate the bee. He said that in order to “maximize fun,” spellers won’t be eliminated from the competition when they misspell a word, as they are in traditional spelling bees. Instead, they’ll just lose a point and have to wait for the next round.

“We’re going to make sure everyone has the chance to spell plenty of words,” said Mr. Greenberger, who plans to have 300 to 400 words prepared for the event. He said the most elementary words will be at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels and that the most advanced words will be “culled from ‘adult’ lists and my own random harvest of curiosities in the dictionary.’ ”

And while being a good speller is clearly a prerequisite for any successful spelling bee contestant, Mr. Greenberger said prospective participants should also be competitive.

“It’s more than being a good speller,” he said. “It’s about keeping your wits about you.”

If you want to enter or sponsor a participant but can’t get to either library for a form, you can print one yourself by visiting and clicking on the “Community Spelling Bee” icon.

You can also call Kay Zegel at 631-298-4134, ext. 7, or Jamesport Meeting House member John Stefans at 631-722-4208.

[email protected]