Port Graham’s team of one shines in book battle

Do it all?  

No problem for Luke DeVault of Port Graham.

Battle of the Books teams are allowed three students — a spokesperson, a recorder and a “thinker,” but for the third- and fourth-grade team at Port Graham School, Luke was it. The K-12 school with about a dozen students is on the south side of Kachemak Bay.  

“He had to give the answers out loud, he had to do the thinking and the recording. He was a very good sport and just fun,” said Karla Barkman, coordinator of the event for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. “He was truly amazing. I was impressed with him.”

While he may have been alone on the team, Luke was not the only family member involved in the competition. His mother, Stephanie, was the team coach; his brother, James, was on the winning fifth- and sixth-grade team.

“Not to take anything away from the other kids (in Battle of the Books). They’re all really amazing, but most kids, especially that young, are not willing to go it alone,” said Barkman.

As in years past, southern Kenai Peninsula Schools made a good showing at the district-level of the annual Battle of the Books, a competition testing students’ ability to recall details from lengthy reading lists.

In the morning round of the third- and fourth-grade competition, West Homer Elementary School took second and Port Graham’s one-person team took third, with Redoubt Elementary in first and K-Beach in fourth. In the fifth- and sixth-grade competition, Port Graham took first; the Nikiski Middle sixth-grade team took second; the Kenai Middle sixth-grade team took third; and Redoubt Elementary took fourth.

At the middle school, or seventh- and eighth-grade, level the Homer Connections team took first; Skyview Middle, second; Kenai Middle, third; and Chapman, fourth. At the high school level, the Soldotna High team took first; Homer, second; and Kenai, third. Nikiski and River City Academy tied for fourth. 

The competition is conducted telephonically. Teams have 30 seconds in which to provide a correct answer.

Third- through sixth-graders have reading lists of 15 books. Middle school and high school readers each have a list of 12 books. 

“I set up three morning rounds where all participating schools get to play,” said Barkman. “The top four go to the afternoon round and two more battles. The team that wins is the first-place team for the district.”

The top-placing team in each of the four areas will proceed to state.

Linda Brady, coach of Chapman’s fourth-place seventh- and eighth-grade team said it was “a very close battle” for students Ro’en Bice, Luke Clutts, Caleb Holschen and alternate Jonny Bice.

The Homer High School team included senior Iustina Kuznetsov, who has competed in Battle of the Books for eight years, said Coach Esther Ashment.

All in all, Barkman was impressed with the level of reading abilities.

 “It amazes me every year the things these kids can recall, reason and think through when faced with a question and only 30 seconds to come up with an answer. It’s pretty amazing,” said Barkman.

State battles are being conducted this week.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.