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Chesapeake 6th grader claims second-straight win

It had all the makings of a big time boxing match. Every seat was full, competitors were ready for toe-to-toe competition and it lasted 12 rounds.

It wasn’t a prizefight, however, it was a spelling bee. But if it had been, one Chesapeake sixth grader could be borrow the moniker of former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, Emily “Real Deal” Neal.

For the second-straight year Neal out-spelled her competition and won the Lawrence County Spelling Bee in Judge O. Clark Collins’ courtroom on the third floor of the City Center in Ironton on Wednesday. Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends watched 16 Lawrence County fourth through eighth-grade students put their spelling skills to the test at the Lawrence County Educational Service Center-sponsored event.

“I’m happy,” Neal said with a smile. “I’m amazed that God helped me win this.”

Neal finished as runner-up in the contest three years ago and this past March earned a third-place finish at the Ohio University Scripps Regional Spelling Bee in Athens.

Each of Lawrence County’s eight school districts sent two representatives to the event, those students were Courtlyn Lewis and Trevor Stephens from Dawson-Bryant; Briana Brown and Elizabeth Carrico from Fairland; Elizabeth Gillespie and Abbey Taylor from Ironton; Neal and Kamren Helmstetler; Eric Daniels and Karissa Patrick from South Point; Jalyn Teasdale and Christian Gilbert from Symmes Valley; Bryce Balestra and Clay Willis from Ironton Catholic; and Kaitlyn Shope and Sara Jenkins from Rock Hill.

Lawrence County ESC Superintendent Dr. James Payne made introductory remarks before pronouncer Doug Korstange led the students through a practice round. Chesapeake fourth-grade teacher Amy McCallister did the pronouncing for Neal, who hears only with the aid of Cochlear implants and relies heavily on reading her former teacher’s lips. Cochlear implants provide a sense of sound to people who are profoundly deaf or extremely hard of hearing.

Students were slowly eliminated — two in rounds one and two, one in round three, three in round four and so on — until Neal and Gillespie were the only two spellers remaining. Gillespie misspelled a word, but Neal then had to spell one correctly. Her word was “trauma,” and after spelling it correctly, Neal had to spell another word to claim the title. She spelled “mosque” correctly and claimed victory.

Judges for the competition were Cheryl Blankenship from the Lawrence County Briggs Library and Ohio University Southern Director of Development Matthew Ward.

All 16 students are eligible to qualify for the regional competition in Athens by successfully completing an online assessment.