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Two local Reading Bowl teams defend titles

First-year Cinderella team makes impression

Special Photo 
The Ola High School’s reading bowl team is the reigning Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl state champs. The team includes Carlyle Byer (from left, back), Elizabeth Nobles, Jessica Sorby, Margaret Cotter, Megan Murdock, Mary Mangual and Jordan Hall (front).

Special Photo The Ola High School’s reading bowl team is the reigning Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl state champs. The team includes Carlyle Byer (from left, back), Elizabeth Nobles, Jessica Sorby, Margaret Cotter, Megan Murdock, Mary Mangual and Jordan Hall (front).

McDONOUGH — Several reading bowl teams had stellar performances in the Henry County Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl competition. Six are moving on to the regional contest this weekend.

Ola High’s team is returning to the reading bowl tournament to defend its 2012 Georgia Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl championship title.

First- and second-place teams at the elementary, middle and high school levels of the Henry County Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl are moving on to regional competition Saturday at Clayton State University in Morrow. Ola High has one of those teams.

Cheryl Benton is a media specialist at Ola High. She coaches the team with media assistant Anita Stroup.

“It’s not as easy as it seems,” Benton said. “There’s some pretty stiff competition. [But] I expect to go all the way. I think the team this year is actually better than last year’s team.”

Benton said the team has returning seniors who have competed in the reading bowl since middle school.

“All of these students are excellent students.” she said. “They’re juggling other extracurricular activities as well as their classes and they’re all avid readers and fast readers.”

The Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl is a statewide competition named after a library media specialist at Sky Haven Elementary School in Atlanta.

Ruffin created the game-like reading bowl at her school in the 1980s, using a list of book titles nominated as must-reads in Georgia. She was said to have been inspired by the Georgia Children’s Book Award Nominee Program created by the University of Georgia’s department of language education.

The contest has grown to include thousands of students around the state. They form teams responsible for reading through 20 books. The teams compete — at county, regional, district and state levels — on their knowledge of the books until a state champion is determined in late March.

Ola High senior Jessica Sorby read through all 20 books in the high school category in less than a week. She estimated it took her about 17 hours to get through the pages last summer.

“The hardest part is staying dedicated to the books,” said Sorby. “I’ve been doing it for the past seven years.”

She said she is ready for Saturday’s bowl.

“I hope that this year we will go to state and win again,” she said. “I was really excited that our hard work paid off.”

Sorby’s team will have competition from a nearby source.

Henry County High is also sending a first-year team to compete in the regional contest.

The team placed second to Ola High at the county bowl and is making its maiden journey through the tournament.

Stacey Caldwell is a media specialist and one of the coaches for the nine-member Henry County High reading bowl team. Physics teacher Amanda Lunsford also advises the team.

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Special photo Henry County High School placed second at the county-level Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl competition. The reading bowl team includes (from left, top row) Michaela Garnett, Malik Alexander, Collin Garnett, Belinda Joseph, Angeline Mondesir, Chelsea Dezormo, Daphne Joseph (bottom row) Mia Turner and Elizabeth Smith.

Henry County High has nine students — freshmen up to seniors.

“They’re just kids who like to read,” said Caldwell. “We do have a lot of dedicated readers here.”

Caldwell said she created the team this year after receiving requests from several students who participated in reading bowl at Henry County Middle.

“I really didn’t know what to expect, honestly,” she said. “I didn’t really have any expectations going in. Was I surprised? Yes. The kids did all of the work.”

The young team, she said, was unfazed by the depth of competition in Ola High.

A confident Malik Alexander is a senior and a leader for the Henry County High team. He competed in reading bowl all three years he attended Henry County Middle.

“The competition aspect of it is nothing,” said Alexander, 17. “It basically comes down to individual preparation.”

He said he has read 17 of the 20 books so far this year, finding time between extra-curricular activities to scroll the pages.

“I felt very accomplished because we’ve done a lot of preparing,” he said. “We did very well, and it was good because everybody on the team contributed. It’s not about luck, it’s about skill.”

Caldwell said the team’s performance is an indication of student achievement across disciplines at Henry County High.

“I really do believe that the attitude and culture has really made a big difference,” said Caldwell. “I would attribute that kind of change to the success we’ve had so far. These are great kids.”

She said her team members are anxious to see whether their work has paid off.

“We’re excited,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes on Saturday. But I’m proud of them no matter what.”

Tussahaw Elementary placed second to Timber Ridge Elementary which scored a 500 to win among 19 elementary schools at the Jan. 26 county reading bowl. The 2011 state champions at Union Grove Middle also won over second-place finisher Ola Middle and seven other teams. These teams will compete Saturday.