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Competition becomes a page turner for more than 1,000 students

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Sarah Smallwood, a senior at Greensburg Salem Senior High School, has been participating in the Westmoreland Interscholastic Reading Competition ever since she was in the sixth grade.

She plans to relish this year's event, especially since it will be her last

“It's great, a whole bunch of students can compete as a team,” she said. “Cheerleaders, football players — everyone gets together. It's really fun.”

The Westmoreland Interscholastic Reading Competition will be held from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. March 25 and 26 at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.

Once again, the Greensburg Salem School District will play host through the efforts of high school librarian Carrie Vottero and middle school librarian Debbie Kozuch. The district has hosted the competition since 2001.

Competing this year will be students from 22 school districts, predominantly from Westmoreland County, including the Greensburg Diocese. There will also be teams from Allegheny, Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Washington counties.

The students receive a book list at the beginning of the year and will be quizzed on information from those books.

Each team has roughly 10 students. This year's event will feature 36 teams at the high school level and 49 teams from the middle school level.

More than 1,000 students will attend over the two days. High school competitors will be quizzed on 30 books; middle school teams on 40 books.

There are 40 questions per round, according to Vottero. The questions originate from the Intermediate Unit in Johnstown, along with additional questions from Vottero and Kozuch.

“It's not a competition but more of a celebration of reading a good book,” Vottero said. “It doesn't matter who wins or loses. It brings in kids from a lot of different backgrounds and gives them something to do — something they're proud of.”

Winners of the competition will receive trophies.

Fielding teams will be:

• Aquinas Academy, Greensburg

• Belle Vernon Area

• Burrell

• Chartiers Valley

• Connellsville Area

• Derry Area

• Franklin Regional

• Freeport Area

• Greater Latrobe

• Greensburg Central Catholic

• Greensburg Salem

• Hempfield Area

• Jeannette

• Kiski Area

• Ligonier Valley

• Mary Queen of Apostles, New Kensington

• Mt. Pleasant Area

• Norwin

• New Kensington-Arnold

• Penn Hills

• Penns Manor

• Penn-Trafford

• Southmoreland

• Yough

Smallwood said the books include fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction, sports and books about the Holocaust. Everyone has their favorite book.

For Smallwood, it's “The Running Dream,” by Wendelin Van Draanen, about a girl who runs track and loses her leg in a car accident.

For Vottero, it's “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.

“He's my favorite young adult author, we just added him to the list,” she said. The novel is about a 16-year-old girl named Hazel who has cancer and is forced by her parents to attend a support group, where she finds love.

Kozuch said she hopes the books instill a lifetime love of reading in the students. She said that working together on a team is advantageous.

Carol Whalen, the librarian at Greensburg Central Catholic High School who has been participating in the competition for at least 10 years, will be bringing two teams this year.

“Reading is one of the best ways for young adults to build their vocabulary,” Whelan said. “Competitions like this encourage students to read something they wouldn't normally read. It's important to encourage them to read outside the box.”

Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.