I LOVE working with the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl! What’s that, the HRRB, you say? The HRRB is, simply, confirmation that many, many students in Georgia P-12 schools love to read. They love to read to the point of passion, commitment, and COMPETITION!

A dream began in 1985 when Mrs. Helen Ruffin served on the Georgia Children’s Book Award selection committee. She had a passion for reading and learning, and she found a creative and exciting way to pass that love forward. She designed a competitive reading contest where elementary students read the Georgia Children’s Book Award Nominees and then answered specific questions about each title. Later, the Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Nominees were used for high school readers. The HRRB started as a competition between a few schools and quickly spread to encompass the entire district. In 2003 it became a statewide competition. Since that time, literally thousands of fourth through twelfth grade students have sharpened their senses and enhanced their memories by reading hundreds of books for the big day.

Student reading team members are selected at the local school level, and then competitions begin at the district level. Winners are announced and teams move on to the regional competitions: East, West, North, South, Middle, and Metro Atlanta. Once regional winners are determined and teams are narrowed down to only two per elementary, middle, and high school levels, the final event takes place at the University of Georgia, Athens, during the Georgia Children’s Literature Conference. If you have ever been to a little league baseball or football game and witnessed the tension and emotion there, multiply that by about 100 for this meeting of the minds! Team members donned in matching “reading theme” t-shirts, accompanied by their coaches, parents, siblings, teachers, grandparents, and more flock into the room to anxiously await each question, they hold their breath until the buzzer sounds, the answer is given, and the place is filled with a loud, collective exhale.

I am so fortunate to have been able to help with the West Regional competition here at the University of West Georgia for the past several years. Every year at the meet, the doors are closed, the rules are read before each round, buzzers are tested, and participants are given a big thumbs up to start the questions. The team members hold the buzzers tightly and wait with anticipation as the first question is read. They pay close attention and are poised to buzz in at any split second. Then, there’s the eyes…the look of confidence in some, uncertainty in others, and excitement in all. The beauty of this adventure is that kids are developing and exhibiting a love of reading. They are not just reading because an assignment requires it, but reading for the sheer love of it – for the pending excitement of the competition and the intricate knowledge they develop through the stories they read in good, engaging literature.

I presented at the Georgia Children’s Literature Conference in Athens three or four years ago and attended the storytelling luncheon. It had been a wonderful conference, and I was looking forward to hearing the storytellers as I enjoyed a delicious meal. I found myself seated next to a most interesting elderly lady who was gentle and engaging. We talked about our work, our past educational experiences, and a little about the present political climate in the schools. She was articulate, and had a kindness about her that was almost unreal, the sort that you can literally feel and you know is genuine. As we neared the end of the luncheon, she asked my name. I replied, then asked her what her name was. She simply replied, “Helen.”

Mrs. Helen Ruffin passed away November 22, 2014. She leaves behind a monumental legacy…in the eyes of the children.


(Image retrieved from http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/hrrb/)