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Bradwell Institute wins 3rd straight Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl state title
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Bradwell Institutes Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl team members pose with the state championship trophy they won March 19 at the University of Georgia. - photo by Photo provided.

BI’s championship Reading Bowl team

Bradwell Institute’s 2016 Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl Team is: Sarah Speicher, Shelby Logan, Melissa Hawkins, Angelique Hutton, Jordan Graham, Robert Martin, Heather Beers, Cathryn Haas and Cailin Ingram. Coaches are media specialists Melissa McCallar and Nikki Lukkarinen.

Bradwell Institute has done it again. And again.

The Tigers are the state champions of the 2016 Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl — their third consecutive state title and fourth straight appearance in the state finals.

Bradwell’s team defeated Liberty County High School in February, and advanced to the South Regional Bowl at Valdosta State University. The team finished in first place and moved on to the Division II Bowl hosted at Georgia Southern University, where the students once again earned first place.

The state title match on March 19 saw Bradwell tie Gainesville High School twice. Then, Bradwell students answered the final two questions correctly and won 140-120.

Being on the Reading Bowl team is tougher than it might look to the casual observer.

“We’re not a book club. It’s more competitive than you think, and you have to enjoy reading,” team co-leader Melissa Hawkins said.

“It’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of dedication. If you don’t want to do it, then you shouldn’t even try,” team member Shelby Logan said.

“A lot of teams that are not successful think of it more like a book club,” media specialist and Reading Bowl coach Melissa McCallar said. “We love to do that, but if you do that instead of drilling and practicing for the jeopardy style competition, you won’t win.”

Everyone has to try out for a spot on the team each year. There are no guaranteed places. Prospective Reading Bowl students read from a list of 20 books compiled by the Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Committee over the summer.

Practice begins when school starts in August. Students earn points for correct answers during practice, and those with enough points earn spots on the team. Reading Bowl teams can have up to 10 members — five competitors and five alternates.

Practices are a commitment. Team member Sarah Speicher said some people quit because of other obligations, but she feels that winning is a reward for the work.

The team does not discuss the books too much at practice, instead getting right to work. Media specialist Nikki Lukkarinen and McCallar make up questions to test the players’ speed and accuracy.

“Speed is the hardest part,” team co-leader Jordan Graham said. “It doesn’t matter how much you know if you don’t buzz in first.”

When there is down time, team member Cailin Ingram enjoys discussing the books with her teammates.

“We tell each other it’s going to be a good book if they haven’t read it,” Ingram said.

Angelique Hutton read all 20 books last summer. She loves books and said it is good to a have at least one person on the team who has read all the books.

The reading list is diverse. Genres include fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels and poetry. The books are culturally diverse, give different perspectives and discuss difficult topics such as date rape.

Graham said team members do not like every book they read, but it gives them the opportunity to read something they otherwise might not.

Team member Cathryn Haas said her favorite part of Reading Bowl is “meeting people that you never would have met before in other grade levels that aren’t in your classes.” The team is a mixture of grades nine through 12.

Bradwell’s team has faced some big schools. Last year, BI faced Walton High School from Marietta, a nationally ranked school, McCallar said.

“You can be going up against schools with 5,000 students,” she said. “We’re kind of the middle-of-the-road size school, and we go up against these powerhouses that are used to dominating in things they compete in.”

Speicher said it feels good to win three straight state titles. After the Tigers’ second win, expectations were high for a third, and Bradwell earned a reputation as the school to beat.

“The year after we won the first time, we were standing in line next to a girl from another school. She said to us, ‘You guys are from Bradwell Institute? We’ve heard about you,’” Hawkins said. “So the pressure was on.”

Team leaders Graham and Hawkins are seniors graduating in May. Both have been on the Reading Bowl team since they were freshmen. McCallar and Lukkarinen were new to coaching at Bradwell in 2012 and needed to build a competitive team. McCallar previously taught Graham and Hawkins and knew they would be up for the challenge.

“They’re some of the fastest people we have on the team. So there’s a lot of pressure. They expect us to be better and be just as good as them,” Speicher said.

Graham and Hawkins gave their teammates some parting tips, such as remembering the names of book titles and authors, and how the title relates to the story.

“We demand a lot, and they really rise to the occasion,” McCallar said. “We found people who could put in the work. Now we have more people than we can take. Their successes have helped build it to what it is today. This (2016-17) will be the first year without Jordan and Melissa leading us, but I have faith in them.”

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