PILOT MOUNTAIN — Pilot Mountain Middle School is setting its sights on state honors after winning Regional 7 Battle of the Books honors. The school’s recent accomplishments speak for its program. Three out of the last four years PMMS teams have advanced to state competition.
“I try not to think about it,” said Pilot Mountain Coach Rene Mosley, who has coached teams for the competition for a total of seven years. “There’s always stuff you have got to do before you go to state. We already have the novels for next year to consider.”
Pilot Mountain has won the district competition for five consecutive years. In 2010 and 2011, they also won the Region 7 competition. Pilot placed second at the state competition after a tiebreaker round for first place in 2010 and won the state in the 2011 school year. Regionals this year were held at the Statesville Civic Center on April 22.
Sandra Burton, mother of seventh-grade team member Austin Burton, jokingly characterized herself as head chearleader for the team.
“He loves to read. I told him if he loves to read it’s what you need to do,” said Sandra Burton, who said she is a lifelong friend with Mosley. She said the two have been together since they were classmates in the fifth grade. Burton also taught at Pilot Mountain Middle and said her son knew she had high expectations for him.
“I think competing in Battle of the Books has made his (Austin’s) behavior more mature,” added Burton. “He has learned more responsibility with getting prepared and he understands what a team is and how important it is to do your part. Rene (Mosley) is awesome coaching them. She cares and they know it and that’s what makes the difference.”
J.T. Tarn, a three-year member of the team, finds himself on another team headed to state competition. Last year, he and his teammates finished fourth in the region.
“It’s pretty exciting for us still,” said Tarn. “The makeup of the teams has been fairly consistent. Sometimes you get a question that we really aren’t sure about so we discuss and try to figure it out the best we can. We don’t have many of those.” He said competition in the region remains tough but seems to change every year on which other schools have the strongest teams.
Tarn liked reading, and was active in elementary school in the Million Word Club, so Battle of the Books seemed like a good thing to try.
Mosley said one order of business the team faces annually is getting the new book lists to potential team members. She started coaching the team when her daughter Jessie became interested in competing. She said testing is also part of an ongoing process for the team, but Mosley said her approach keeps the emphasis on being there to compete.
“On this team everyone has to read everything to remain competitive so we rely on a star chart to see who has read what and how many times. On this team everyone has to read everything because there is also competition between the kids.” She said another important component of the team’s success is gradually Battle of the Books teams have taken on a culture all its own.
“It’s a close knit group but you have to earn the respect,” said Mosley. “Seventy former members came back to a cook out we held last year which was wonderful. The alumni and the team members treat each other like family. Members of the team ask to go even if they are on a team that’s competing. Right now I even have little sisters along for the rest of the team.” She said another important part of Pilot Middle’s consistency is support from the school and school administration.
Another important aspect of the team’s performance is an emphasis on comprehension and not just recalling random facts as well as vocabulary. She stresses her team is not a group of machines with a mechanical focus on information only. The ages of members of the team range from 11 to 14 years. A mixture of ages is also an important part of the mixture at PMMS because this allows knowledge to continue the next year.
Sixth-grader Abby Key is one example of the team which enjoys each other’s company as well as competition. She said she was on an elementary Battle of the Books team and decided to give it a try once she got into middle school. She said she and two friends tried out for the team and all three made the cut.
“I love to read. I’ve always been a big reader,” said Key. “This is my first year at this level and it’s a big difference. Last year we had 18 books to read and the list has 27 for middle school competition. That made a big difference. It made it a bigger challenge.” She said she and her two friends help support each other.
Seventh-grader Abigail Robertson is known on the team for her ability to filter out whatever else is going on and settle in for a good read. This is her second year on the team.
“I didn’t start reading until third grade when a teacher got me to read more books. The book “Matilda” really made me get excited about reading. Competitions still make me nervous, but my favorite thing is how we work together as a team and somehow always figure it out. It’s never just one person.”
Regional competition is set for May 9 at the UNC-Greensboro campus. Members on the team going to that event include J.T. Tarn,Austin Burton, Abigail Robertson, Anthony Fulp,Cassidy Torrey, Jayne Willard, Elizabeth Porter, Elena Heath, Katarina Sechrist, Nathaniel McCraw, Nathan Sheets and Abby Key.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.