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The "Word Nerds"

April 06, 1997

By Kate Coleman

Staff Wrtier

Eleven-year-old Jack Corcoran of Keedysville says he doesn't mind being called a "word nerd."

Jack is one of six members of the Word Nerds II team that won the final verbal round of competition in Washington County Free Library's 10th Battle of the Books April 1.

Seventeen teams of six to eight fourth- through sixth-graders signed up for the program last November. All the kids on Word Nerds II are home-schooled. Each team was given a set of 20 books selected from a number of areas on a variety of reading levels. The "battle" tests the readers' knowledge of the books.

"It's an exercise in memory, really," according to Jeff Ridgeway, librarian in the children's department of Washington County Free Library.

Written competition March 4 narrowed the field to eight teams. Ridgeway says three verbal rounds, including the championship April 1, followed a format similar to television's "It's Academic."

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Ridgeway always is surprised by the amount of detail the kids recall. Teams that haven't won come back to compete again. He considers this a measure of the program's success.

Kevin Roberts of Knoxville, Md., served as captain for Word Nerds II in the championship round. He competed last year and says he would like to do it again.

"I like reading," he says. He read all 20 of the books on the list.

This year, for the first time, a parents and teachers organized a fund-raising effort that resulted in sponsorships by businesses, organizations or donations to the library. As in past years, school PTAs sponsored some of the teams. Each competitor received a free book and wore a team T-shirt. There were prizes of fast food and gift certificates for those who made it to the verbal rounds, and trophies for the two top teams. The winning team's name will be placed on a plaque in the children's department of the library in Hagerstown. A team photo also will be on display.

The program is designed to encourage children to read well-written books that are interesting and entertaining. Classics and contempary works are included.

Ann Corcoran, Word Nerds II team manager and Jack's mom, says she is excited to see her son excited over books he probably never would have read without the competition.

"Anne of Green Gables" is an example.

"I didn't think I would like it, but when I got started, it's pretty good," says Jack, who also read all 20 books.

His take on the beloved title character?

"She talks a lot," he says.

Jack has a brown belt in karate and usually reads books about basketball. What does he like about Battle of the Books?

"I like the whole thing. I like winning, too."

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