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The best and the brightest

County sending four to regional spelling bee

The regional Scripps National Spelling Bee is set for March 24 at Ohio University in Athens and, this year, Lawrence County is sending four bright, accomplished students to compete.

Making the cut this year were Emily Ferguson, of Fairland West Elementary, John Tyler, of Chesapeake Middle, Danielle Leonard, of Ironton Elementary, and Hannah McKenzie, of South Point Middle.

In order to qualify for the regional bee, participants have to be the champion at their individual schools and then score 25 or higher on an online test.

Emily Ferguson

Ferguson, 10, a fourth grader, is in her first year of eligibility for the bee, which is open to students through the eighth grade.

And, for her debut, she went all the way at the county’s competition bee in December, taking the top trophy by successfully spelling “wampum.”

She said it “feels good” to be headed to the regional event and that she was not really expecting to win at the county in her first year.

She is the daughter of Paul and Allison Ferguson and, for extracurricular activities,  plays volleyball and basketball.

She said, to prepare for Athens, she and her mother have been watching videos of past bees to get an idea of words that may come up.

“We don’t have official lists of this year’s words,” Ferguson said.

The completion recycles the spelling lists every few years.

Ferguson is also being supported by her teacher, Shawna Leep, who is a veteran coach of sorts. Her daughter, Holli Leep, was a school and county champion and took part in the regional bee.

Of Ferguson, Leep said “She’s amazing.”

“I would not be surprised if she wins the whole thing,” she said. “She’s exceptionally bright and works so hard.”

John Tyler

The other three competitors will be making a return visit to Athens, one of which is John Tyler, an eighth grader who took runner-up in this year’s county bee.

In 2016, he took part in the regional bee, along with his aunt, Emily Neal, who is two years his senior and a multi-year school and county winner.

He has been competing in bees for four years and is now in his last year of eligibility.

Tyler once placed third in Athens, in one of two visits to the competition.

“I’ve been studying night and day,” Tyler, who also is involved in his school’s marching band, said of his preparation for next month’s event.

Hannah McKenzie

Taking part in the Athens bee for the second year in a row is Hannah McKenzie, 13, a seventh grader at South Point Middle School.

While she did not compete in this year’s county bee, she was the spelling champion for her school.

McKenzie, who lives in Coal Grove, is the daughter of Shana McKenzie and Harry Parks. She participated in this year’s Lawrence County Science Fair and is active in Quiz Bowl team and does percussion in the school’s band.

She placed 14th in last year’s regional and has been taking part in bees for three years.

Like the others, she said she has been working hard on preparation.

“I’ve been writing down all the words, multiple times, to help me memorize the spelling,” she said.

Danielle Leonard

Also in her second year at regional is Danielle Leonard, 12, a sixth grader at Ironton Middle School.

Last year, she and McKenzie were the two qualifiers from Lawrence County for 2017, where Leonard finished in the top 15 as well.

“I was very surprised,” she said to learn she was returning to Athens, adding that the online test is “pretty hard.”

Leonard, who finished third behind Ferguson and Tyler at the county bee in December, is the daughter of Missy and Ron Leonard. She also took part in this year’s county science fair, plays basketball and is active on the Tigerettes dance and baton team at her school.

“I’ve been studying all the terms they gave me,” she said of her preparation. “All the different lists and they come from different languages. I sit in a chair at home, while my mom goes over the words on the website. She pronounces them and I have to spell.”

The winner of the regional bee moves on to eligibility for a trip to the Scripps National Belling Bee, set for May 29-31, in Washington, D.C.

The last student from Lawrence County to qualify for the national event was Felicity Jenkins, a 2016 graduate of Symmes Valley High School. Jenkins was a five-time champion at the county level and took part in the D.C. event in 2010 as a sixth grader.