[Featured image: Seniors…? Poses with their ribbons, trophies, and WIRC plaque. (Left to right, top down: Jessica Prentice, Janelle Hayward, Grant Hoffer, Jesse Quatse, Melissa Paravate, Maria Mlinarchak, Claire Simpson, Shannon Brady, Elizabeth O’Neal, Gillian Perez), Photo Courtesy: Claire Simpson]
Last week, six months of reading and preparation paid off at the Westmoreland Interscholastic Reading Competition (WIRC), where Seniors…?, a GS team, took first place.
WIRC is a quiz-bowl style competition hosted at Seton Hill University where teams compete to get the most questions right. Teams, usually more than one per school, compete in rounds where each team is paired against another team. When the dust settles and the day is over, whoever has the highest total score wins the competition. The structure is simple. The subject matter is not.
“I haven’t been to a competition yet, so I can’t say too much about it, but the thought that we read a lot of books is definitely true,” senior Kane Claflin said the week beforehand.
Competitors face the challenge of remembering details of the content, plot and characters of 30 books preselected by the high school librarian, Mrs. Carrie Vottero.
From his year of reading, Claflin maintained that WIRC is all that it seems: reading, reading and reading. This is Claflin’s first year, but he has friends who have participated in WIRC for four years, including a chunk of his team, The Good Guys, who snagged the sixth place spot this year.
“The reason that we started our team is because of Claire Simpson’s team, and so I think they’re our biggest competitor,” he chuckled.
Simpson was a member of this year’s winning team: Seniors…?. Simpson herself was unable to schedule an interview, but her teammates, seniors Janelle Hayward and Jessica Prentice, were able to speak about their involvement.
“I think a lot of people think it’s boring, but I like it,” Prentice said. “It’s fun to go to Seton Hill for a day,”
“Seniors…?” was the chosen name for Hayward, Prentice and Simpson’s team because of their mostly senior team members. Regardless of grade, they were all eager to compete.
“It’s always fun to geek out,” Hayward added. “We have a blast when we’re there.”
Both Hayward and Prentice enthusiastically agreed that competition day was a holiday for them, but ceded that some of this year’s books dragged. Not all of them are fiction, and some, like The Kingdom of Little Wounds, are a hefty 500 pages.
“Usually a lot of them are enjoyable, but this year they’re few and far between,” Hayward said.
Hayward praised The Serpent King, and Prentice said that The Sun is Also a Star was the only book she enjoyed. But there were not a lot of books up their alley this time around.
“There’s a lot of nonfiction this year,” Prentice groaned.
As aforementioned, the book selection, as well as a myriad of other tasks, is done by Mrs. Vottero and Mrs. Debbie Kozuch, the GSMS librarian.
“[Mrs. Kozuch and I] receive the registrations from the different teams from all over Western Pennsylvania,” Vottero began, listing their duties. “We have to create a schedule for them to compete against each other, we have to reserve the facility, Seton Hill University, be in constant contact with the people there, set up the cafeteria….”
Many students do not realize the hours the librarians put into WIRC. Across the middle and high school divisions, almost 1,000 students compete every year. Of course, all of these students need buses and slots on the schedule, not to mention lunch at Seton Hill. The logistics of all of these things and more fall squarely on the librarians’ shoulders.
“You have to have the space organized,” she continued. “You have to do the scoring of the event, you have to write the questions….”
Vottero is always enthusiastic about the event, but when it comes down to it, she’d rather spend time helping her students manage their team and organize practices to increase GS’s fighting chance rather than hosting the competition.
“Greensburg Salem has six teams this year that really deserve their own coach,” she said. “I don’t get to spend nearly enough time being that coach to them because I’m running the actual event.”
Vottero believes GS students are disadvantaged because librarians at neighboring districts have the opportunity that she doesn’t: getting to read and practice alongside their teams.
“I feel bad about it all the time,” she said. “I wish I had more time to prep and question [the teams], and have pretend contests and see how prepared [they] are.”
However, Hayward and Prentice don’t feel necessarily disadvantaged.
“We’re doing our own thing, you know?” Hayward said. “We just have to do what’s best for us, and [Mrs. Vottero’s] coaching may or may not mold with our strategies.”
The pair both competed in WIRC at the middle school, where Mrs. Kozuch regularly quizzed teams on certain books. They agreed that Mrs. Kozuch’s questioning definitely helped, but were skeptical of any impact beyond that.
“I don’t know if we’d need it,” Prentice said.
Because Vottero doesn’t coach, student teams become largely independent. According to the librarian, most of the teams prepare themselves for the competition to the best of their ability, and Vottero places “great faith” in the idea they will.
And they do. Throughout the years, new approaches have been created or old ones tweaked by inventive student teams.
“We try to get two or three people on each book, because if you only have one person on each book, the odds of them remembering for every single question are slim,” Hayward said. “We also like to do notecards on the day of the competition to prompt each other and get our minds running.”
Seniors…? used a hand-drawn chart, while The Good Guys preferred an Excel spreadsheet, but both use the same concept: charting the books vs. who’s read them.
“I’m in charge of most of the administrative things, like keeping track of the books that people have read, and making sure people get the money for our shirts and everything,” Claflin said.
Of course, this isn’t a GS-only event. Dozens of schools participate every year, and a few quickly became “threats” in competitions past.
“I want to say that Hempfield won the top three spots last year,” Vottero said. “First, second, and third place. Which – wow – that’s a really big deal.”
According to Vottero, 39 teams competed this year – a typical number. Hempfield’s sweep of the leaderboard last year means that their wins haven’t been flukes, and GS students were ready to be diligent to keep up. For Seniors…?, that diligence clearly paid off, as Hempfield’s best team placed second.
“Hempfield is usually the team to beat,” Hayward remarked before.
GS readers were also watching out for DuBois Area, a more secluded central Pennsylvania school district. In the very first year DuBois participated in WIRC, they were hardly acknowledged, that is, until they trounced every team they played and won the competition. This year, they also placed high in the top ten.
“I would love to see us take those top three spots this year,” Vottero said, almost predicting the future.