Westmoreland reading competition begins next chapter on Monday

Megan Tomasic, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·3 min read

Mar. 21—For Shannen Stolkovich, participating in the Westmoreland Interscholastic Reading Competition is more than just an opportunity to show her competitive side.

The event, which includes students from districts across the region, also is a way for the 16-year-old junior at Greensburg Salem High School to touch on a childhood passion that led her to join the competition in middle school.

"The books themselves are really interesting and having to remember what you've read — I'm kind of competitive, so I feel like there being a competition where I can use useless knowledge from books that I've read is perfect," said Stolkovich, who has read about 11 books from a list of 30 compiled for the competition.

This year, 16 high school teams and 15 middle school teams are set to compete Monday and Tuesday. Typically held at Seton Hill University, this year's event is virtual because of the pandemic. Students will show off their knowledge in a game show setting.

Students will gather at their individual schools and join the competition via Zoom. Moderators will ask students a question for each book on the list, according to Carrie Vottero, Greensburg Salem Senior High School librarian.

Shaun Cartiff, a school library media specialist at Freeport Area Middle School, said a brief introduction will be followed by breakout rooms for each round. High schoolers, who have a list of 30 books, will have four rounds; and middle schoolers, with 40 books, will have three.

An awards ceremony will be held to declare the winning team.

The competition started in the early 2000s by Nancy Martz, a former Greensburg Salem librarian. When Martz retired, Vottero took it over and is in charge of creating the book list for high schoolers. The middle school list is created by the Westmoreland County Association of School Librarians.

"I recommend every book on that list," Vottero said. "They're awesome titles, really good stuff. ... These are really incredible books and not everybody even notices them, and so, these kids, this is their jam. Reading is their thing and they're proud of it, and they should be."

Cartiff, who has been a part of the event since 2008, said it is a way for kids to meet others with similar interests and compete based on their love of the reading.

Josh Willy, a ninth-grade teacher at Penn Hills, first got involved when he taught middle school at the district in the early 2000s. When he moved to the high school, he created a second team.

"I'm looking forward to it. The kids are looking forward to it," Willy said of this year's event. "We're glad that it's still being coordinated. We look forward to going back to live competition, but I'm glad it's an opportunity we can participate in."

While the event is a competition, Vottero said the important part is that it promotes reading.

"That's kind of the key to making a child a reader is having them experience a book that they really love, so I create that list, wanting them to read something and think, 'Holy cow, that was the best thing I ever read. I want to read something else.' That's the whole point of it," Vottero said.

At Greensburg Salem, students seemingly embody that idea.

Sisters Ryann and Callie Shirey started their journey in the competition while in middle school.

Ryann, 17, a junior, said she's "always been a big reader and so when I found out there was actually a competition that you can join, doing something I like, I thought it would be cool."

Callie, 15, a freshman, joined the team after watching her sister compete.

"I thought it was cool, so I tried it after that and I just fell in love with it," she said.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, mtomasic@triblive.com or via Twitter .