Wrestlemania challenge at Cockeysville Library puts a head lock on teen's reading interest

Steve Zhou, left, 13, Precious Harrison, right, 14, and Kenji Hayashi, front, 12, all of Cockeysville, work on their homework in the Teen Zone at Cockeysville Library on Oct. 13.
Steve Zhou, left, 13, Precious Harrison, right, 14, and Kenji Hayashi, front, 12, all of Cockeysville, work on their homework in the Teen Zone at Cockeysville Library on Oct. 13. (Staff Photo by Jen Rynda)

A diabolical plot is unfolding at the Cockeysville Library, and it's all because the Young Adult Library Services Association has declared Oct. 16-22 to be Teen Read Week.

The library's "plot" is called the Wrestlemania Reading Challenge, and it's designed to get teens and 'tweens to flex their mind muscles.


Sponsored by World Wrestling Entertainment and the Young Adult Library Services Association, the program was created to lure young people — including those who might normally seldom crack a book open outside school — into reading.

The challenge offers them rewards in exchange for their pledge to read five books, or graphic novels, and complete a related project.

For students in grades seven to 12, the project is writing a short letter to their favorite WWE superstar to try to convince him or her to read their favorite book.

Letters will be judged on knowledge of the WWE superstar to whom the letter is addressed, and the writer's ability to convince the star to read the book, as well as development and clarity of the ideas expressed and creativity.

For students in grades five and six, the project is designing a bookmark illustrating a slogan they have created that promotes reading. These entries will be judged according to the impact of the slogan, originality of the design, relevance of the graphics and images to the slogan and overall visual appeal.

The Cockeysville Library staff is encouraging participation by sponsoring a program on Thursday, Oct. 20, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the library's Teen Zone. It will include WWE trivia and a highlighted display of WWE/Wrestling books and DVDs owned by Baltimore County Public Library.

"The library owns a lot of wrestling books," said Cockeysville circulation services manager Lou Sica. "That age level seems to be very interested in wrestling."

This will be the first of several opportunities for youngsters to register for the challenge, keeping in mind they must complete their tasks and submit all the required forms by Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 3 p.m. to be eligible for prizes provided by the WWE and other organizations.

The WWE has a vested interest in the project — 23 percent of the 15.8 million fans that WWE programming reaches are under age 18, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The Cockeysville competition is the local level of the greater Wrestlemania challenge, which includes 50 states and Canada, and involves successive levels of state and regional competitions.

The grand prize that will be awarded seven winners is a trip for two to WrestleMania XXVIII in Miami, Fla., in April 2012.

"However, their greatest reward will be the interest they develop in reading, and the joy of reading, that will serve them well in all their future endeavors," Sica said.

Sica was compelled to set up the program after he attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans in June. One of the program offerings at the conference was about how libraries could participate in the Wrestlemania Reading Challenge.

The surprise guest star was professional wrestling manager Jimmie Hart, aka "The Mouth of the South," who was notorious for using a megaphone and being the prototypical "heel" character during the WWE's rise to prominence in the 1980s.


"He'd used it to yell at the fans at ringside, at opposing wrestlers and at the referees," said Sica, who was a fan back then, and is now 36. "He also would sometimes use it as a weapon in the show."

"It was all very exciting for me," said Sica. "I've been a wrestling fan since I was 9 or 10 and used to watch it with my grandmother. She loved it."

The Mouth of the South posed with him for a photograph. "He let me hold the megaphone," Sica said. "My buddies were jealous. We were like a bunch of teenagers all over again."

Sica broached the idea to Elizabeth Rafferty, who handles youth services for the county library system, and she helped him register Cockeysville as a participating library.

"He was so enthusiastic about it, I knew it would be successful," she said.

Teen Zone gathers a crowd

The Wrestlemania program is one of several activities that will take place in the new Teen Zone at the library this month, according to Angela Kidner, who schedules the events with fellow circulation staffer Alysia Bunce and librarian Meliss Bunce.

"The Cockeysville Library was so lucky to receive a really nice space for the teens to hang out," she said, "but this age needs a little more than just a space. Most of the teens in this area have parents that work full-time jobs, so they really don't have anything to do to keep them busy after school."

The Teen Zone was launched soon after Cockeysville's renovation project was completed this past spring. The inaugural meeting featured a pizza-tasting contest in which local pizzerias each donated one large cheese pizza (Italian Cafe received first-place honors).

The Teen Zone also hosts a "game hour" every fourth Monday of the month, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

"The teens have enjoyed game days," Kidner said. "We shut the door, turn on the music they choose, and play games like Uno, Scrabble, Apples to Apples, and we often end up dancing."

Future activities include bingo, an open mic night and a "Draw your own Anime" class. In November, members will make holiday cards for Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Fliers for upcoming programs can be found in the Cockeysville Library. For details, call the library at 410-887-7753.