Archived Story

Chesapeake student spells way to victory

Published 9:49am Friday, December 7, 2012

This time last year Emily Neal was only 9, in her first countywide spelling bee and came in second.

Wednesday the trophy was all Emily’s as she beat the competition in 25 rounds at this year’s Lawrence County Spelling Bee at the Ironton Municipal Courtroom.

Her winning word was “depilatory.”

“It was just amazing,” Emily, a student at Chesapeake Middle School, said after her win.

Prepping for the contest, Emily and her parents spent about 90 minutes a night for about a month going over word lists.

“She has a photographic memory and that helps out a lot,” Shelley Neal, Emily’s mother, said. “It is a God-given gift. God gets all the glory for the spelling.”

Lots of studying and lots of prayer led Emily to her success, her mother said.

“We prayed before each round,” Shelley said. “She has been saturated with prayer before birth.”

Emily, who is the older of the Shelley and Lewis Neal’s two children, was born profoundly deaf, receiving her first cochlear implants when she was 13-months-old. The second came when Emily was 5 years old, followed by five years of speech therapy at Marshall University.

“She has always been academically focused,” Shelley said. “It comes very naturally. Once she sees the list, she has it. Her second grade teacher said once something is in her head it is there forever.”

While last year’s near-miss was a disappointment for Emily, her parents viewed it as a victorious day.

“She was 9 years old and she went up against a 14-year-old, five-year champion who went to nationals,” Shelley said. “We said, ‘You didn’t lose. You won,’”

Next step is competing in regionals, before going onto to state and national competitions.

“I am ecstatic,” Shelley said. “Anything that gives God glory I want to pursue. He has done such a miracle with her.”

But before the next round of competition comes, the Neal family was up for a victory lunch at Emily’s favorite place, Giovanni’s.

“She loves their pizza,” Shelley said.

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