Posted by Pam Spencer Holley
This year YALSA has been able to pair with WWE for several reading events and I wanted to describe some of what went on with our first-ever Big Time Reading Challenge this past March 31st. I was in Chicago to attend this cooperative effort among YALSA, the Chicago Public Schools and WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment]. In February and March students in Chicago Public Schools read Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher and then either wrote essays or took quizzes in their schools [and I may have some details wrong here, but the main thing is kids read], competing for the right to attend this final challenge. Several days before the March 31st event, some of the WWE wrestlers went into the schools and spoke with the students [and I heard nothing but positive comments from teachers, librarians and students about this].
On the big day, 150 students arrived at Robert Morris University in Chicago, along with Beth, Nichole and me from YALSA; Neil Yoke who worked with the press [this is Beth’s husband and he’s great at event planning]; various people from the Dept of Libraries of Chicago Public Schools; folks from Morris Univ, who were very helpful; and then WWE staff accompanied by wrestlers Shelton Benjamin, Rey Mysterio and “the mouth of the south” Jimmy Hart [once Jimmy arrived, I had to give up my microphone to him for emcee duties–there was no way I could have ‘wrestled’ it from him!].
CPS provided breakfast goodies for the students–juice and Danish–then everyone met in the auditorium for those “logistical details.” After that the group was split in two with half staying in the auditorium listening to Chris Crutcher while the other half went to take quizzes that would lead to the 16 finalists; after an hour, the groups had a break and switched locations. It was really exciting to be in a room with students who had all read the same book–Chris spoke in his usual relaxed manner and had the kids spellbound, especially when he shared where the origin of some of his characters, such as Telephone Man.
When the groups were all back together in the auditorium, the wrestlers arrived and Jimmy Hart announced the finalists, one by one, as they walked in and took their special seats. Wrestlers Shelton and Rey alternated asking questions of the students while Crutcher was the official judge of the answers. There were 5 rounds of questions [Beth and I both agreed that this piece could use a little jazzing up as it did get tedious listening to 5 rounds of 16 questions each!]. Eventually three top winners were selected. All the finalists received tickets to Wrestlemania [we talked to one girl who said she did this only to get tickets for her grandmother!], the top three winners received better tickets, duffel bags of goodies from WWE and money for their libraries [$2000, $1500 and $1000]. Every student who attended also received a Wrestlemania t-shirt, and a swag bag with book galleys provided by YALSA, bookmarks and other little goodies. Comcast provided door prizes and lunch from Subway and autographing as the Big Time Reading Challenge wound down by 1pm.
Though I’ve only been involved with the WWE groups twice now, each time I’ve been so impressed with this organization. The wrestlers they bring into the schools do a super job of interacting with students; they all seem to know how to talk to teens. I heard incredible reports from a librarian who worked at a school attended by many handicapped students who were just in awe of their visit from the wrestlers. Over and over we heard these comments from the Chicago librarians and teachers—you couldn’t help but feel good to be part of this event.