Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

University hosts big-time readers

by Luanne Williams

“Work hard now; play hard later,” Wingate University basketball player Zeriq Lolar advised Union County Public Schools students who packed Cuddy Arena Friday morning for the second annual Books and Brackets Celebration.

With the hard work of reading behind them, the elementary-school kids were ready for some playtime. Third- and fourth-graders in UCPS read for a total of more than 12 million minutes (that’s almost 23 years) over the past six weeks in the second annual Books and Brackets Reading Challenge, and the “Elite Eight” teams in the bracket celebrated on Friday.

The event was especially celebratory for those from Kensington Elementary, who topped the county in number of minutes read. Also reaching the Final Four in the competition, designed with a nod to the NCAA tournament, were Indian Trail, Sun Valley and Marshville elementaries. Antioch, Rocky River, New Town and Wesley Chapel rounded out the Elite Eight.


Wingate University basketball player Zeriq Lolar gives students some tips, not just about school and reading, he said, but also about life.

Lolar’s tips for success, which also included pushing through hardships and remembering that reading expands the mind, were offered among a number of short, congratulatory talks from UCPS Superintendent Andrew Houlihan, NBC Charlotte anchor Fred Shropshire and Wingate University President Rhett Brown, who introduced himself to students as the University’s “principal.”

Brown reminded the crowd that education changes lives and asked students to show their appreciation to teachers, assistants and reading volunteers who help them achieve.

Houlihan commended students for their work on all literacy skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening – and said the school system is committed to ensuring that everyone is reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade. He said the Books and Brackets participants, who numbered roughly 5,500, read twice as much this year as last. The competition began with third-graders in 2017 but was expanded to include fourth-graders this year.

Before the big announcement of Kensington as the top-reading school, students enjoyed a mascot dance-off, some skills demonstrations from University athletes, and an appearance by the Forest Hills High School boys’ basketball team, which won the 2A state championship this year. When the winner was announced, Kensington principal Rachel Clark climbed a ladder to cut down the net in true Final Four fashion.

Although she declined to divulge her school’s secrets to success, she said much of it hinged on the leadership of Kensington teachers. “Our teachers were really excited about Books and Brackets, and that made the students get excited too,” Clark said.

And the crowd goes wild! Union County Public Schools third-graders celebrate their success as readers at Wingate’s Cuddy Arena.

Third-grade teacher Tammy Rollins said the school had a number of read-ins. “During that, we had kids eat in the classroom so they could read,” she said. “We also gathered in the gym and spread out on the floor for additional reading time.”

Kensington third-graders Anna Bernat, Ariana Abraham and Joyne Steier said they loved the extra opportunities to read.

“I like that it wasn’t just about winning; it was about reading and about having fun,” said Bernat, who estimates that she read about 45 books during Books and Brackets and expects to read more from now on as a result of the competition.

That’s the result hoped for by Richard Heins with United Way of Central Carolinas, the primary sponsor of the competition.

“We value literacy,” Heins said. “We are all about economic mobility. We want to make sure everybody has a chance to succeed and move up the ladder. So they’ve got to have literacy, which is so foundational to success.”

In addition to United Way and Wingate University, sponsors of Books and Brackets include the Union County Education Foundation, Union Power Cooperative, Goulston Technologies, MyOn, the Union County Chamber of Commerce, Novant Health, Big South and Scholastic. UCPS received more than $17,000 in donations for the annual literacy push, $5,000 of which went to Kensington to buy reading materials. The other Final Four schools received $1,000 each.

Also during Friday’s celebration, Darren Drye from MyOn handed out iPad Minis to the top three individual readers: Kensington’s Aahan Raj (2,784 minutes) and Marshville’s Cole Mandeville (2,700) and Dylan Davis (2,504).