Randy Clegg rushs to embrace his daughter, Ashley Clegg, in celebration as she wins the Hopkins County Spelling Bee championship Thursday.
Staff Photos By Angela Pitts

The Whole Tamale

Third time's a charm for Hopkins County Spelling Bee champ Clegg

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

Feb. 29, 2008 - After 11 rounds of competition, Sulphur Springs Middle School student Ashley Clegg won the whole "tamale" Thursday afternoon by spelling the tie-breaker word correctly at the Hopkins County Spelling Bee.

The "third time's a charm" adage held true for the seventh grader, who was eleminated in the seventh round last year and made it to the last double-elimination round in 2006.

This year's winner is the daughter of Randy Clegg and Sherri and Gary Attaway. Her parents said their daughter's success was due largely to a "lot of study and prayer." She said the entire family helped Clegg study, calling out words to her. Even her 4-year-old brother, Thomas, sitting with his mom in the audience, asked his mother prior the start of the contest what he could do to help. She told him, "Say a prayer for her in your heart."

Thursday's bee featured only seven contestants. An entry fee and materials cost implemented this year had most county school districts sitting out. In the past, schools haven't had to pay to enter the contest, and study materials have been provided for participants, according to one school official.

The contest came down to Clegg and 7-year-old Tim White, a home-schooled fifth grader, after the sixth round, when 2007 champ Kaitlyn Hankins, a Como-Pickton eighth grader, was eliminated after forgetting the second "n" in the word "innate."

Douglas Intermediate fifth grader Lacey Jackson wasn't "buffalo-ed" until the fourth round, mistakenly ending "Sputnik" with a "c." SSMS seventh grader Kristen Gore also spelled out in the fourth round, ending "protocol" with an "al."

It was almost "tragic" to see Douglas fifth grader Hunter Allen have to sit down after missing the second "r" in "barrio," and Como-Pickton sixth grader Jace Sturgille sit after spelling "hominy" with an "i" instead of a second "o," both during the second round.

Both Clegg and White were true "olympians," exhibiting "character" to the last round. White spelled "condolences," "mascara," "dynamic, "begonia" and "lucid" before mistakenly spelling "dyslexia" with a "i" instead of a "y."

Clegg's mother, Sherri Attaway" indicated after the contest that her stomach was a twisted like a "pretzel," another of the spelling words, watching the ordeal. She sat through the spelling of "mongrel," "enthusiasm," "admiral," and felt as if butterflies were conducting a "concerto" inside her as she listened to her daughter spell the word. She then mastered "parfait," and in the elimination round correctly spelled "dyslexia" before mastering "tamale."

Afterward, Sulphur Springs Independent School District Director of Elementary Education Connie Mabe complimented each participant on their ability to spell well and to do so aloud in front of others. She also encouraged six of the seven participants to again compete next year, as they are fifth through seventh graders and will be eligible to try to the bee again next year.

As for 7-year-old Timothy White, his parents, Richie and Lonnette White of Sulphur Springs, said the youngster didn't do anything terribly special to prepare for the meet. In fact, this is his first time to compete in any kind of spelling bee. He just studied guide put out by Miriam Webster and his regular school spelling programs. The only special instruction he received was a talk before the contest from his parents about the contest rules.

So how does a 7-year-old compete in a county spelling bee for middle school aged children? He's advanced a few grade levels for his age, and as a fifth grader meets the minimum grade requirement to compete in the county bee.

He could have some competiont that hits close to home in the future, however -- his 6-year-old sister, Ariel, also a home-schooled student, also has jumped ahead a bit. She's a second grader.

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