2008-03-21 / Community

Local Spells His Way To National Bee

By Nicholas Briano

Neil Alacha with his parents after winning the 44th Annual Daily News Spelling Bee on March 13 to earn a trip to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Neil Alacha with his parents after winning the 44th Annual Daily News Spelling Bee on March 13 to earn a trip to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Eighth-grader Neil Alacha was still in shock when he walked into Bishop MacLean senior home on Beach 20 Street this Sunday for his weekly volunteer work.

His picture was hanging on the wall and the congratulations were overwhelming, because just three days before on March 13, three times became a charm for Neil.

Neil, Neponsit resident and Scholars' Academy student, on his third attempt at greatness has finally been crowned the spelling bee champ of New York City, and has earned his way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Alacha, who participated in the annual Daily News Spelling Bee the previous two years, was determined and more prepared than ever to show New York City that no one could spell better than he at this year's competition.

The 44th annual contest, split into two separate competitions, featured 96 of the top students from fifth to eighth grade including both public and private schools.

Neil will be joined in Washington by another New York City champion, who was crowned on the second day of competition.

Neil credits his victory to some solid but simple advice that his mom gave him after he lost the previous two years.

"I told him he has to slow down," his mother, Ann, said. "He spelled too fast and didn't know what word he had to spell."

Ann is referring to last year when Neil was knocked out for misspelling "psalm," a word that he had mistaken for another. This year he ousted his opponent by correctly spelling "anomaly."

"This time around I made sure I asked the definition and country of origin for every single word," Neil said. "Last year I misheard the word, mainly because I didn't ask any questions."

Neil not only credits his success to this, but also felt he was better prepared than previous years and knew how to spell nearly every word in the competition beforehand.

"I prepared mainly with study guides of past words, plus I also read a lot, which definitely helped me," Neil said.

Neil, a big fan of fictional books, especially the Harry Potter series, knew he had the contest won when his final opponent struggled with her word and began asking questions.

"I knew she didn't know the word, because the entire time she wasn't asking questions," Neil said. "I spelled the last word so fast because I just wanted to get it over with and win."

As a result, the Alacha family will pack up on Memorial Day weekend to go see Neil compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

"We are all thrilled and proud of Neil," his mom said. "We're all going down to see him; I know this means a lot to him."

The Brooklyn Tech-bound eighth-grader is excited about competing against kids from all over the country.

"I am very excited," Neil said. "I've been studying for a long time for this and hopefully it will pay off."

Neil says he got all sorts of congratulations when going back to school last Friday, something his mom says made him feel extremely happy and proud.

All the gifts he received from the Daily News for winning also contributed to that happiness.

The champ was awarded a laptop, tickets to the circus and Medieval Times, a savings bond, and round trip airfare and hotel for the National Spelling Bee.

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