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‘Veteran’ speller – 8th-grader Emily Keaton – wins regional spelling bee, now heads to D.C.

Emily Keaton is going to her fifth consecutive National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., after winning the regional University of Kentucky Spelling Bee. (Photo by Mike Farrell)


Staff report

The University of Kentucky Spelling Bee is a new event, but the champion was a veteran. Emily Keaton, an eighth grader at Christ Central School in Pikeville, is going to her fifth consecutive Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Kentucky Utilities was presenting sponsor of the UK Kentucky Spelling Bee.

The UK Scripps Howard First Amendment Center and KyForward brought a new regional bee to 62 counties in Central, Eastern and parts of Southern Kentucky this year, as a new franchisee for the National Spelling Bee. Kentucky Utilities was presenting sponsor.

Twenty-five contestants participated Saturday in the bee which will be Emily’s last. Rules allow students to compete only through the eighth grade. She won a Louisvlle-based bee the last four years.

Emily’s winning strategy is to practice spelling every day. She says her family, even her younger brother, helps her prepare for the spelling bees.

“We are always on the lookout for interesting words,” said Jill Keaton, Emily’s mother.

Emily spelled each word with confidence and without hesitation. Contestants are allowed to ask the pronouncer to repeat the word, give a definition, use the word in a sentence or tell the origin of the word. Emily went through the entire bee without asking any of these questions.

“When I ask questions, it makes me nervous,” she said.

This will be the last year of spelling bee competition for Emily, pictured with Kentucky Spelling Bee pronouncer Andrew Byrd, lecturer in the linguistics program at UK. (Photo by Mike Farrell)

When asked what advice she would offer other spellers she said, “Keep a level head, trust God and put all of your effort in it.”

Emily won a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a one-year membership to Encyclopedia Britannica Online Premium, and an expense-paid trip to the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., for her and one parent.

All spellers received a lunch card from Kentucky Utilities and a gift bag of goodies, including their selection of a book from the University Press of Kentucky.

Approximately 85 supporters were in the audience, silently rooting for their spellers. Participants ranged from third to eighth grade.
Each round produced a smaller group of participants. Stumping the spellers were such words as seersucker, giraffe, prescription, potash, formidable, panzer and hurricane. Andrew Byrd, lecturer in the linguistics program at UK, was the pronouncer for bee.

The bee came to a final spelldown between Abraham Nidhiry, a fifth-grader from Danville Christian Academy, and Emily. Abraham misspelled coloratura, meaning elaborate embellishment in vocal music. Emily spelled it correctly and then correctly spelled tritium, meaning a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, to win the championship.

Fifth-grader Andrew Nidhiry was runner-up. (Photo by Mike Farrell)

Dr. Mike Farrell, associate professor in the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications, director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center and bee coordinator, said the bee will be annual event.

“We are proud of all of our spellers, each one a champion of a local school,” Farrell said. “We are excited about Emily’s chances to win the national bee and bring the trophy home to Kentucky. But all of the spellers showed their vocabulary skills.

“Spelling is a critical part of learning to write and speak correctly. Students who work hard and prepare to compete in spelling bees have s a real opportunity to grow their vocabulary, their study skills and their self-confidence.”

“The spelling bee is simply a part of the national fabric and as many Kentucky students as possible should have a chance to participate,” said Judy Clabes, editor and publisher of KyForward.

Judges were Susan Straub, communications director for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray; Deborah Chung, associate professor in journalism at UK; Mel Coffee, assistant professor in journalism at UK, and Steve Ivey, publication and production manager for UK HealthCare Marketing Division.

Students from the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunication assisted with the bee.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., will be held May 26-June 1. The championship round of the bee is broadcast nationally on ESPN.

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UK journalism student Melissa Patrick contributed to this story.

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