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Speller headed to regionals

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

CHESAPEAKE, Ohio -- Ten-year-old Emily Neal hasn't let the fact that she was born deaf in both ears keep her from becoming a straight "A" student and winning the school and county spelling bee.

She'll compete in the regional spelling bee at Athens, Ohio, on Saturday, March 16.

Her Chesapeake Middle School teacher, Teresa Combs, a fifth-grade writing and English teacher, has agreed to serve as her "pronouncer" at the regional spelling bee.

"This is a unique situation," Combs said. "She's very bright, very driven. She's a really good speller. She has a tremendous work ethic. I'm very proud of her, and I'm excited for her."

Emily Neal's hearing problems were discovered during her infant screening. She got her first cochlear implant when she was 13 months old and a second when she was 5, according to her mom, Shelley Neal.

"She doesn't skip a beat. She has high hopes for the spelling bee," her mom said.

But even with the implants, Emily Neal still has difficulty hearing in certain situations.

"It is hard for her to hear on the phone," Shelley Neal said. "She always puts the captions on when she watches TV."

Emily Neal doesn't sign, but she watches people's lips when they talk to help her hear. "She went twice a week to speech therapy at Marshall University through kindergarten."

Her daughter has a photographic memory, Shelley Neal said.

"She's good at memorizing things," she said. "She memorized all the states and their shapes and the presidents in order when she was 4. She always did well at spelling."

Emily finished second in the county spelling bee last year and won it all this year. Entrants in the spelling bee are allowed to have their own pronouncer.

People with cochlear implants can understand the way some people pronounce words better than others people, Shelley Neal said, and Emily Neal is able to understand her teacher, Combs, well.

"I'm happy to be a part of it," Combs said. "I feel honored and privileged to do it."