BY RYAN MURPHY
NEW YORK CITY — Think Sunday’s WrestleMania showdown between WWE Champion The Rock and John Cena is the most exciting bout in the New York/New Jersey area this weekend? Then you must have missed out on the eighth annual WrestleMania Reading Challenge Finals.
A bright group of schoolchildren gathered in City College’s Aronow Theater in the Harlem section of New York City on Saturday morning to take part in a battle of brain power for WrestleMania Reading Challenge trophies — and ringside tickets to WrestleMania.
The students had turned a lot of pages during this year’s WrestleMania Reading Challenge and written letters to a WWE Superstar or Diva to qualify for the finals. More than 25,000 students read more than 110,000 books during WWE’s annual drive to increase literacy, but only 18 kids made it to Manhattan for the big event.
Three tense, “Jeopardy”-style quiz games tested the contestants’ knowledge of a book they had read that year — “Over Sea, Under Stone” by Susan Cooper for fifth- and sixth-graders, “The Chronicles of Harris Burdick” by Chris Van Allsburg for grades seven and eight, and “This Dark Endeavor” by Kenneth Oppel for grades 9 through 12.
With an overly anxious Miz playing the role of judge and the lovely Natalya keeping score, Josh Mathews fired off questions like a veteran game show host while ably sidestepping The Awesome One’s many barbs. Josh asked each group 20 questions with the student delivering the most correct answers being declared the winner. The competitors who misspoke had to deal with The Miz and his “wrong answer” buzzer.
“I wanted the wrong buzzer, because the kids were so good that I barely had to use it,” The Awesome One said. “The less work I have to do with my hands is always better for me, because I enjoy talking.”
After some incessant buzzing from The Miz and a few very tough questions, three WrestleMania Reading Challenge winners were left standing — Dianna Nielsen , Harneek Kapoor and Kenyan Gustafson. Not only did the young readers receive shiny trophies, but they also will be only feet away from the ring when John Cena challenges The Rock for the WWE Title at WrestleMania.
One year ago, these kids picked up books in their school libraries and chose to take the WrestleMania Reading Challenge. Now, they’re headed to The Grandest Stage of Them All. Their unbelievable accomplishments were summed up nicely by grade 9 through 12 winner Kenyan Gustafson, who said, “I never imagined reading a book would take me to WrestleMania!”
For more information, visit wrestlemaniareadingchallenge.com.