Arnold just didn't know what to think. There he was at the first North American Elementary School Reading Championship. But somehow he didn't feel like a North American reading champion. He felt very much like an ordinary fourth grader on an ordinary field trip to an ordinary big city.

After all, reading is not exactly an Olympic sport. It's not as if people train all year round to become world champion readers..

For instance, basketball players practice their jump shots and gymnasts practice their balance and concentration. But readers - - - readers don't practice anything at all. They just read..

Still, it was just a little bit exciting to be in a reading competition. What could the other kids in the competition be thinking at this time? Were they as scared about the competition as he was himself? Was it normal to get the jitters before this type of competition ? Arnold's thoughts were suddenly interrupted when he heard someone yell out his name. "Hey, Arnold! Are you daydreaming again? You've got to start warming up. The quarter-finals are scheduled to begin at eleven o'clock this morning.".

"Warm up? Warm up? How are you ever supposed to warm up for a reading competition?" Arnold said to himself. "Breeze through a couple of short stories, perhaps. Run through a couple of short poems?" Ridiculous. Ridiculous. A reading competition is simply ridiculous..

So without even putting on any sweat pants, or stretching any muscles, Arnold strolled over to the center of the auditorium to find out which desk was the one he was assigned to..

Desk A17. It could have been worse. Desk G39 was right beside the back door, and there was sure to be a cold draft blowing from that back door. One thing you don't need in a reading competition is a cold draft blowing across your desk..

So everything looked set for the quarter finals. Arnold breezed through the reading passage. The reading passage was all about the Eiffel Tower..

Piece of cake. Easy as pie. The questions at the end were easy too. The results would be posted after lunch, so Arnold had some time to relax for a while before the real competition. As he strolled over to the cafeteria, he noticed that his stride was just a little bouncier than when he first walked into the auditorium. Maybe this reading competition wasn't such a ridiculous thing after all..

As he picked up his cafeteria tray, Arnold couldn't help but think about what would be the best lunch-time eating strategy..

Should he go for a high-energy lunch, with heaping servings of meat and vegetables? Or would he be better off eating a light lunch, so that he wouldn't feel too drowsy in the afternoon competition? One thing you don't need in a reading competition is to feel drowsy..

Arnold chose to go with a large salad and a light side order of vegetables. A light lunch would help keep him quick and alert. What was that old boxing motto again? "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee !" After lunch Arnold took a short walk outside..

A little exercise can really help you stay alert. It's amazing what a little fresh air can do. Arnold swung his arms quickly back and forth, and took about a dozen deep breaths. The semi-final competition was scheduled to begin at two o'clock. By the time two o'clock rolled around, Arnold was ready to compete again..

This time he was far less nervous than he was before the morning competition. He sat down again at desk A17 and took out his five pencils. He needed five pencils just in case four of them broke their points all at the same time. Or just in case a giant tidal wave came crashing through the auditorium, carrying away four pencils at once..

Arnold snickered to himself. Sometimes his imagination was just a little on the wild side. So then he opened up the reading competition booklet and started right in on the reading passage. This time the reading passage was all about the history of basketball. Arnold perked up a bit. Basketball was one of his favorite sports..

Arnold found the reading to be pretty easy, so he whizzed right through it, and slam dunked all six of the questions at the end. By this time Arnold just knew that he was going to make it to the finals of the North American Elementary School Reading Championship. Only those children who got a perfect score on the semi-finals could go on to the finals. Arnold knew that he had gotten every single question right. He just knew it..

The names of all the semi-final winners were going to be listed on a bulletin board near the front of the auditorium. Arnold waited right beside the bulletin board, pacing back and forth with his hands deep down in his pockets..

When the judges came out with the list of finalists, Arnold felt his heart skip a beat. Earlier that same day he hadn't cared too much about making it to the finals. But now he really wanted to compete with the very best of the readers at the competition..

The list of finalists was then posted on the bulletin board. Arnold spotted his name in less than one second. Twenty other children were also on the list of finalists. The big moment of the day was less than twenty minutes away. Arnold decided to take another quick walk outdoors. He needed some fresh air to get rid of all the nervous energy that was flowing through his body..

For the third time in one day, Arnold sat down at desk A17 and carefully arranged his five pencils. The judges handed out the booklets. The booklets were placed upside down on the desks..

You were not supposed to turn them over until one of the judges said, "You may now begin." Arnold looked up at the clock on the wall. The hands on the clock seemed to move so slowly. Finally the judges finished handing out all the booklets. Then one of the judges said, "You may now begin.".

Arnold flipped over his booklet in a flash. He immediately started racing through the first paragraph. The finalists had only twenty minutes to do all the reading and answer all the questions. And since he needed at least five minutes to do all the questions, that means he would have only fifteen short minutes to do all the reading..

The reading passage for the finals of the competition was all about a ping pong ball floating down the Nile river. Arnold couldn't help but smirk at the topic. A story about a ping pong ball floating down the longest river in the world is a pretty silly topic for a reading championship. It's almost as silly as the image of a giant tidal wave crashing through the auditorium, carrying away four pencils at once..

But the reading wasn't so easy, and the clock was still ticking away. Arnold didn't have time to smirk if he wanted to finish all the questions in time..

With one minute left on the clock, Arnold finished the last of the six questions. He then looked around to see how many of the other children had finished. About two thirds of the finalists had already put down their pencils. The results of the finals were posted one hour later. To win the finals you had to answer every single one of the questions correctly. It didn't take long for Arnold to notice three names on the top of the page..

And his name was not one of them..

Underneath the names of the three winners were the names of all the other seventeen finalists. Each of the three winners were given a trophy, and each of the seventeen finalists were given a certificate..

As Arnold got on the bus to go home, he looked down proudly at his certificate. He may not have been a trophy winner this time around, but deep down he sure felt like a North American reading champion..

Phil Shapiro

Copyright 1992

All Rights Reserved


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