Marietta sixth-grader Julianna McNeice, 10, prepared for competition at the Macy’s national spelling bee in an unusual way: She went to a show the night before and stayed up until 1:00 a.m.
She and her parents were, after all, in New York City, and somehow they scored tickets to "Wicked." No way were they going to miss that.
“We are not your typical spelling bee folks,” said her mother, Laura McNeice.
So, after a six-hour tour of the city and a late night on Broadway, they tucked in for the night at a Sheraton hotel. The next morning they made their way to the Macy's in Herald Square and a showdown against 28 other orthographic prodigies from around the country.
Julianna (everybody calls her “Jules”), a student at Dickerson Middle School, claims she was nervous. Her mom doesn't believe it: "She's very calm under pressure." That's because Jules doesn't drill, go over word lists or do any other special work, unless you count the amount of time she spends reading.
"What three books is she reading right now?" her mother asked. Those would be “The Shadow in the North,” by Philip Pullman, one of James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” books and “Eragon” (for the 16th time) by Christopher Paolini. "She will read a 300-to-400 page book every day."
Her extensive reading prepared Jules for such tricky terms as “regime,” "anneal" and “rendezvous,” all of which she handled easily at the Sept. 26 competition. But the second-to-last word that she faced, “poinciana,” was something else again.
“I had never seen that word in my life,” said the youngster. Her competitor got it wrong -- he tried "P-O-I-N-T-S-I-A-N-A" -- so she knew not to go that way. "I took a long time to spell it. It sounded kind of Spanish to me."
She somehow spelled the flowering tropical shrub correctly, then breezed through "antennae"" for the title. This is the fifth year the department store has sponsored the annual contest. Jules finished first in the regional competition Aug. 7 at the Town Center Macy's, setting her up for the trip to New York.
First prize in the national competition included a trip for four to Jamaica. Michael and Laura McNeice, both IT consultants (though Laura now stays home with the children) plan to buy an extra ticket so all three sisters -- Jules, Katherine, 8 and Emily, 6 -- can go.
Jules is interested in careers in engineering or editing, as long as she gets to read as much as she wants. James Patterson is her current favorite author, though she admits, "I admire J.K. Rowling greatly. I've read the whole [Harry Potter] series many times."
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