Robert G. Davis, 33o
A "Company Spelldown" provides a singular and fun way for Oklahoma's Scottish Rite Brethren to enhance Masonry's public profile and contribute to their local communities.It was quite an event.
Many of the economic leaders in Oklahoma City were there. Such names as the Bank of Oklahoma, Liberty Bank, St. Anthony and Mercy Hospitals, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, several accounting firms, lawyers, oil companies, engineering firms, television stations, radio, and print media. Eighteen companies in all. And, of course, we were there. The Masons.
It was the Payne Education Center's annual "Company Spelldown." The Center is sponsored by the Scottish Rite in Oklahoma. They train public school teachers in a special reading curriculum called "Alphabetic Phonics." The program was originally developed in the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas. It is a comprehensive multi-sensory, phonics-based curriculum that teaches the science of language. And it has a proven 85% success rate in teaching dyslexic children how to read, write, and spell. It has been called the reading breakthrough of this century.
The program was brought to Oklahoma ten years ago by some parents of dyslexic children. But they needed help in getting teachers trained so their children could have a better chance in school. They called the Scottish Rite. We were ready. The rest is history.
And, on this particular night, we were there again to help them with a special fundraiser. The event was held in the Hall of Murals of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, situated in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. Each company paid $2,000 to get in the door. Each brought two dozen of its employees, officers, and board members. Their job was to cheer. Each also brought three of their own to represent their company in the competition. Their job was to spell.
It was as much a festival as it was a spelling bee. There were noisemakers, balloons, and company logos proudly displayed on the t-shirts worn by the participants. There were hors d'oeuvres, refreshments, and an Italian dinner served by one of the finest cafes in the city. An ethnic rhythm combo entertained during the meal. Lucky ticket holders won door prizes, ranging from trips to New Orleans and Los Angeles, to weekend vacations, computers, lobster dinners, and sporting event suites.
Of course, all these things and more were donated because of the worthy cause. In fact, the event would raise $50,000 in one evening of fun, fellowship, and friendly competition.
And the Masons were at the center of it all.
The Master of Ceremonies, in announcing the names of the participating companies, publicly stated, "the Masonic Fraternity of Oklahoma is here tonight." We yelled and blew our noisemakers. And the crowd clapped. He went on, "The Masons sponsor the Payne Center's program in our state. It is really remarkable the amount of good the Masons do."
And the Masons beamed.
Then the President of the Payne Center came to the microphone. She briefly told the 400 folks present what the Payne Center does. She especially thanked the Masons. She remarked that the Payne Center would not exist without the Masonic Fraternity. She told them the Scottish Rite enables the Center to take Alphabetic Phonics to public schools all across Oklahoma. (We provide $70,000 in teacher tuition scholarships annually, and host the training in the three Scottish Rite Temples each summer). The crowd clapped again.
And again, the Masons beamed.
A local television news personality took the stage and called out the first team to come forward. She pronounced the first word. The spellers had 20 seconds to do their job. The spelling bee had officially begun.
This year, we were defending our second-place finish from a prior year. The team of Mason spellers has been the same each year so far. It consists of the Grand Master and two other Brothers who enjoy spelling words as much as most of us enjoy talking. But, this time the competition was tougher. There were more teams. The defending champions were there. Several other organizations came to win. And they were goodóreal good. I was convinced their spellers had memorized the entire dictionary.
We made it through the first few rounds. Then came the "intermediate" wordsówords I had never heard of. One by one, the companies fell out of the competition. Then, the moderator moved to the "advanc- ed" words. It was at this point I became convinced there are a number of words in the English language which are simply not necessary.
The group was narrowed to 10. The Masons would fail to advance to the next round. This year, we had beat out less than half of the teams in the competition. Even a Grand Master's edict could not save us.
The defending champs would ultimately lose in the final round. A new champion of Oklahoma's "Company Spelldown" was named. They earned it. In the course of the evening, they had correctly spelled 23 words, most of which could not be pronounced by average people. They spelled more than any other company team. They will be the champs until next year.
But that doesn't matter to the Masons. We won another kind of victory. We "connected" with other important and respected groups. We established some public visibility. We will now be recognized by a few more important organizations in our state's largest city. Perhaps in some small way, we even added to the respect we already have in Oklahoma.
But most importantly, we helped some kids learn to read. As always, we did it for them.
And a lot of people clapped.
On that night, in a beautifully decorated hall in our state's largest city, it once again felt good to be a Freemason.