Scores of Minnesota youngsters could happily spell “relief” Wednesday, after Minnesota Public Radio stepped forward to sponsor the annual regional spelling bee.

MPR agreed to back the seven-county Metro Area Regional Spelling Bee only 10 days before a Jan. 31 deadline that would have left metro-area spellers without a direct route to the Scripps National Spelling Bee Contest in May.

The regional bee will be held March 20 at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater, which MPR runs. The winner of the regional bee will get a free trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the televised national contest.

This year’s regional competition was looking unlikely after Augsburg College decided to drop its sponsorship. If a sponsor had not come forward and had the regional tournament fallen through, school and district spelling champions would have had to pay $3,450 to take part in the national bee.

Many area spelling champs found the prospect of paying their own way to the big tournament prohibitive.

“All those kids can get back to studying now,” said Valerie Miller, a Scripps spokeswoman.

Scripps and MPR’s pairing for the bee felt like a perfect match, MPR spokesman Angie Andresen said. MPR values education, she said, adding that the media nonprofit wanted the popular community event to continue.

More than 11 million children take part in spelling bees nationally each year, and about 285 of them end up at the national contest.

While the regional contest was in limbo, some of the spelling bee fervor might have been lost. Josie Spanier, a seventh-grader at Anthony Middle School in Minneapolis, cut back on her orthographic studies after learning the regional bee was in jeopardy, said her mother, Kristine Spanier.

Now Josie is back to the books and back to spelling from 30 minutes to an hour a day, her mother said.

“I’m thrilled,” Kristine Spanier said.

 

Staff writer Shannon Prather contributed to this story.

Barry Lytton is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.