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After 19 years, students from St. James School in Sewickley take Battle of the Books title

Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
St. James fourth-grade Battle of the Books team members (clockwise from top right) Catherine Martsolf, Sydney Grimes, Tyler Dontello, Cassie Depner and Julia Centofanti, known collectively as the Book Warriors, pose for a photo in the school library Friday, May 11, 2013, with some of the books they had to read for the competition.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 8:19 p.m.

For the first time in 19 years, a team from St. James School in Sewickley took first place in the annual Battle of the Books sponsored by Sewickley Public Library.

The Book Warriors — fourth-graders Sydney Grimes, Cassie Depner, Tyler Pontello, Julia Centofanti and Catherine Martsolf — competed against 21 other teams from Osborne and Edgeworth Elementary schools and others in the April 10 event held at Edgeworth.

St. James fourth-grade teacher Jeanne Riley said she's shocked that a team from the school won after so many years competing in the program, but wasn't surprised that it was this particular team who took first.

“They didn't just read the books they were assigned. They went way beyond that and it showed,” she said.

Participating teams of five had to read a total of 15 books over a nine-week time period.

The library's Battle of the Books instruction page suggests splitting the books — three to each participant — so that someone is responsible for reading each book on the list.

A few of the Book Warriors instead opted to read more than just the three they were assigned to have an advantage when it came to answering questions. Depner said she read 14 of the 15 books, while Pontello read seven.

During the competition, teams had to answer 35 questions about the books, which ranged in genre from mystery to fantasy to historical fiction, Depner said.

Members of the Book Warriors met three times over the nine-week period to discuss their books and socialize.

“It was really fun to hang out with them,” Grimes said, gesturing to her fellow team members.

“I think it was really fun, not just because we came in first. The meetings were a ton of fun. It wasn't just about winning,” Depner said.

Pontello said his favorite part about participating in the battle was “either the food, the parties or reading the books.”

The team already has decided to stick together and compete in next year's event — that is, the girls said, if Pontello doesn't get tired of being the only boy on the team.

“I don't really care as long as I get food — and books,” he said.

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or

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