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One-hundred seventy Lebanon students gathered at the River Center on Thursday, Feb. 7 to test their knowledge of the books which had been assigned this year for the Oregon Battle of the Books.

These students were divided among 38 teams and represented all of Lebanon’s elementary and middle schools.

Marla Gessford, a retired teacher who now works part time at Hamilton Creek School, led the event for the fifth time.

“This is the largest competition we have ever held,” Gessford said.

The competition was divided into two categories: grades three through five and grades six through eight. Lebanon High School also participates but holds its own event.

Each Lebanon school can enter as many teams as possible in the district competition. At the school, an OBOB coordinator oversees the program and assigns students to a team which typically has three or four members. There are 16 books on the reading list for both elementary and middle school, and ideally, all of the books on the list have been read by at least one person on the team.

At the competition, these teams face off against teams from other schools in head-to-head battles. They are quizzed on content from the books and the teams which score the most points advance. Because of the round-robin format, each team is guaranteed more than one opportunity to compete.

Organizers prepared 1,360 questions for the event, plus tie-breakers. The competition is fun but isn’t the primary goal.

“It really encourages their reading. Reading is the number one thing you can do to improve your reading and it really makes a difference. They get into it. Kids who don’t usually like books will find something they like,” Gessford said.

The Oregon Battle of the Books is organized each year by the Oregon Association of School Libraries. These state librarians set the reading list for each year.

Orion Miller, a seventh-grader from Seven Oak Middle School, completed nine of the books on the reading list and was part way through a 10th. He said the reading list leads him to books he might not have read if not for the competition.

“It really introduces you to a lot of genres that you really wouldn’t have thought about. It really helps you read more than you would have otherwise,” said Miller, who noted that fantasy is his favorite genre.

“I like how writers can form worlds that you wouldn’t be able to imagine,” Miller said.

Alex Walnum served as the team leader for his fifth-grade squad from Lacomb School.

“You get to read a lot and that’s probably what I’m best at,” Walnum said.

Walnum, who was competing for the third time, completed eight of the OBOB books and was working on completing two more.

At the district competition, the middle school category was won by the OBOBbleheads from Hamilton Creek. The Oregonians from Pioneer School placed second. The Chipmunks and PEMDAS, both from Seven Oak, each placed third.

In the elementary school division, Hogwart’s Heroes from Riverview Elementary School placed first and the Fierce Tigers of Lacomb placed second. Third place was shared by the Old Nerds from Lacomb and the Smile Squad from Cascades Elementary.

The next phase of the competition is regionals. Each school, regardless of how its teams placed at the district competition, is allowed to send one team to regionals. Schools which have both grades 3-5 and 6-8 can send teams to both competitions.

The regional elementary competition will be held March 2 in Woodburn. The regional middle school and high school competitions will be held March 16 in Philomath.

Teams representing Lebanon High School won the state competition in 2017 and placed second in 2018.

Gessford thanked the River Center for allowing Lebanon students to use the facility each year for the event at no cost. She said the site is perfect for the event, with many side rooms available so that multiple matchups can be held at the same time.

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