CLINTON - Melinda Mathews attributes her success as a speller to being an avid reader.
"I learned to read before I started kindergarten," said Mathews.
She won the The Pantagraph Spelling Bee sponsored by Busey Bank for DeWitt County on Thursday at the DeWitt County Building in Clinton.
Mathews, who placed seventh at the DeWitt bee last year, likes reading books about days gone by. One of her favorite authors is Laura Ingalls Wilder, who is known for her "Little House on the Prairie" series.
The Clinton Christian Academy Elementary fifth-grader also gets a lot of opportunities to help others with spelling her own name. "Everybody wants to put two t's in Mathews," she said.
The 11-year-old daughter of Monte and April Mathews said her mother helped her review the words.
"I wrote all the words to practice," she said.
She and the second-place finisher, Courtney Champley, 13, a seventh-grader at Clinton Junior High School, advance to The Pantagraph Grand Final Spelling Bee sponsored by Busey Bank on March 11 at Central Catholic High School, Bloomington. There they will face the top spellers from Livingston, Logan and McLean counties.
Champley said she was surprised to do so well because she hadn't really studied.
The DeWitt County spelling bee, like the two that preceded it this week in McLean and Logan counties, ended in the eighth round.