WASHINGTON — The third day of the Scripps National Spelling Bee brought more nerves, higher stakes and bigger words, but none of that is new for Emily Keaton.
An eighth-grader at Christ Central School in Pikeville and old hand at the bee, Keaton competed for her fifth time this year. She did not advance to the final round, but made the semifinals for the fourth time in a row. Only 42 of the event's 281 spellers competed in the semifinals.
She correctly fielded the word "encephalitis," which is a health term meaning the swelling of the brain, but misspelled "olecranon," the process of a specific elbow bone projecting behind that limb's joint. Keaton said the miss came as a surprise.
"When I spelled my word I wasn't the least bit nervous," she said. "I was actually very confident in spelling it until they hit the tip of the bell. It wasn't exactly a shock, but it was a shock."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
The preparation that Keaton put in for the competition was intense. Studying isn't limited to flash cards or classic literature; rather, she turns to the definitive guide on the English language. "I've studied straight out of the dictionary," she said.
Throughout the years, the bee helped Emily grow as a person.
"I've seen my work levels change," she said. "It's obviously changed the way that I work on things and it's given me a level of discipline that is good for myself. But it's been funny to see myself grow up throughout the pictures. It was kind of dramatic."
Jill Keaton, Emily's mother, noted that the competitive aspect as well as the intense studying teaches the contestants a lot.
"Not only the knowledge they gain while they study," the mother said, "but also the experience of getting on stage and facing their fears and speaking in front of thousands of people — it's just really a wonderful experience, and I think it's truly remarkable that each of these kids is able to do that."
Keaton showed a prowess in the subject at a very young age. "We would be places and she would see a word that was misspelled on a menu or on a sign," said Jill Keaton, "and so she would laugh and just joke about it."
The past half-decade has also shown Keaton the kindness of Kentuckians, saying the support she receives is "probably more than any of these other (contestants) get."