Read Bowl plans to resurface after 8 year hiatus


Connie Erdozain

Helen Ruffin was a media center specialist at Sky Haven Elementary School in Dekalb County, and served the board of the Georgia Book Award Nomination Committee in 1985. Ruffin founded the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl in 1986 in hopes to have students compete in teams to test their knowledge on specific books.

Connie Erdozain

The Midtown Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl team plans to return after an 8-year hiatus. Several teachers and students have taken an interest in participating in the team and hope to build off Midtown’s past success. 

In 2014, Midtown’s reading bowl team won the district Helen Ruffin reading bowl competition under the sponsorship of former literature teacher Nalin Needham. 

Media center specialist, Brian Montero, organized the current team.

“It’s basically like a quiz bowl for books and reading,” Montero said. “It’s a competition that occurs every January. There’s a certain book list;you read all the books, and you put together a team, then you’re quizzed on different trivia about the books that are on the list. The team will read 20 books, and then go to compete against other APS schools, in a sort of Quiz Bowl format, on different aspects of the books.”

Montero says until now, Midtown couldn’t support the team due to a lack of committed members. Participation was impacted by COVID-19.

“One of the challenges has been that there’s a lot of students who are really involved with a lot of activities,” Montero said. “Some of the people who would be interested in [the reading bowl] have other extracurriculars, so there’s just a time commitment issue. We were just trying to get the interest going again, then obviously, of course, the pandemic didn’t help with that, either. Last year, it was virtual because of the pandemic.”

Montero is optimistic that many students, including freshmen, will get involved this year.

“I’m hopeful because our ninth graders who are looking for activities are not involved with a lot of activities quite yet,” Montero said. “It’s a great opportunity for ninth graders, even though it is open to all students because a lot of them may have done [reading bowl] in middle school. They’re familiar with the process and the format, so it’s a way to start kind of getting your resume together with extracurricular activities.”

Literature teacher Erin Aube said she wants to play a role guiding the team.

“I would like to be involved just because I love talking about books,” Aube said. “I love the social aspect of chatting with people who have read the same things you have and being able to have those conversations about the characters, the symbols and the themes, and being able to develop your own thoughts about the book by hearing and listening to what other people have to say about it.”

Aube said the reading bowl is a great way to encourage students to read books.

“I love the reading bowl competitions because one, it gets kids to read,” Aube said. “That’s always a positive in my mind. Two, I think it takes on a unique perspective that you don’t often see in reading because so many people see reading as a solitary activity.”

Aube said reading activities that involve group participation can be helpful for some readers.

“I like programs such as book clubs and the reading bowl that bring it into more of a team environment, and even a competition environment,” Aube said. “I think it’s a unique way to encourage people to read and show them that it doesn’t always have to be about just [them] and [their] book.”

Sophomore Violet Fitzgerald is an avid reader and learned about the reading bowl through Aube, her literature teacher. Fitzgerald said she is interested in joining because the team might compel her to read even more.

“The reading bowl would help me to read more because it takes a while for me to start a book, but that will be an encouragement and a reason to read,” Fitzgerald said.

Like Fitzgerald, freshman Mariah Hammonds became interested in the reading bowl after hearing about it from Aube.

“I’m excited about the reading competition because it will challenge [me] I think,” Hammonds said. “What I love about reading is that it gives you peace of mind.” 

First-year Midtown literature teacher Desiree Carter also plans to get involved in reading bowl later, but wants to encourage students to do it this year. Carter said the reading bowl team plays a crucial role in making students better readers.

“I think people who read for pleasure grow faster as readers,” Carter said. “In the classroom, the teachers are going to present the curriculum that we have to present, but they’re not necessarily the stories that students are reading for fun outside of school. But if you’re also supplementing that with reading books on the [reading bowl] reading list, … that’s gonna make you a stronger reader; you’re also going to get more vocabulary out of it. So the more you read, the more words you consume.”

Montero said he has high hopes for the team, and thinks it has a shot of winning at the district level. He believes winning the district competition would strengthen Midtown’s reading community’s image.

“Being recognized for the reading community that Midtown has, is really special,” Montero said. “Something that I love as a librarian is that you don’t have to sell the idea of the overall benefits of reading and books here.”

Aube said there are many skills students gain from the competition aspect of the team.

“I think it is going to help them [students] with time management because it’s a lot of books that they’re required to read,” Aube said. “It’s going to help them notetaking, and it’s going to help them with recall. And, it’s going to help instill their confidence. Also, just to develop this healthy sense of competition, to be able to go out in the world and speak up for what they want and know that their voice matters.”

Carter said being on the reading bowl team has long-term benefits.

“I think being on a team with your same interest is going to make you more confident and make you feel more connected,” Carter said. “So, if this is someone’s first year at Midtown, being able to jump in and talk with other people who love books is going to be a benefit to them.” 

Montero said the reading bowl team is one of the best ways students can enhance their reading. He says that reading is one of the most important skills necessary beyond school.

“Reading is a skill you use for your whole life,” Montero said. “I think that’s how we understand the world, understand each other and understand our place in the world. The first and best thing you can do to achieve all those goals is to read.”