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The Polka Dots finish fifth in state, outlasting thousands of competitors

SUBMITTED PHOTO - From left, JJ Bartlett, Kenley Whittaker, Campbell Lawler, Kate Gore and Cammy Gore celebrate their regional win against Boeckman Creek Primary in March.Tucked away in the back corner of the Boones Ferry library hangs a prominent plaque with a list of notable Oregon Battle of the Books teams from the school. If you read the engraved names you'll find that a new team was recently added to the plaque. That's because The Polka Dots, a team of current fourth- and fifth-graders, recently battled all the way to the state competition, advancing to the Elite Eight before finishing fifth out of some 4,000 OBOB teams that participated in Oregon this year.

The Polka Dots — composed of Kate Gore, Kenley Whittaker, Campbell Lawler, Cammy Gore and JJ Bartlett — had to overcome a lot during their run to the state competition. Their journey began with a school-wide competition against 16 other teams in early March. Then came the regional tournament that included more than 30 teams, which The Polka Dots again won, followed by the state tournament April 8.

The Polka Dots say they were surprised they advanced past their school tournament and enjoyed the ride along the way. They agree it was during the regional competition that they realized how special of a season they could have.

"Our expectations for regionals were not (high)," Kenley says. "We just didn't want to embarrass ourselves."

"Since we're the highest grade in the school (save for fourth-grader JJ) we knew we had a better chance of winning because we've been doing it for three years and we know what to do and what not to do," Kate says. "When we got into regionals I think we realized we were a pretty good team."

OBOB is a trivia game of sorts that quizzes students on facts and passages from 16 assigned books. Teams of four — The Polka Dots had one alternate at any given time — compete against each other, testing their knowledge of the challenging books. This year's book list was released in the summer, which was when the Polka Dots started reading and preparing for competition in March.

They say their strategy was to divvy up books, so that each member was responsible for mastering four books and serving as the "backup" for four more. The Polka Dots took turns selecting books they wanted to be responsible for, so that everyone got to read something they liked, but quickly found they enjoyed the variety that this year's list provided.

"It forces you to read other books but then you realize you like them and you read a lot more of those books," Cammy says. "We would read our main four books three, four, five times, and then the backup books we would read two or three times."

"For me it introduces me to new books and I like memorizing things, so it's fun," JJ says.SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Polka Dots finished fifth in the entire state of Oregon. From left, JJ Bartlett, Campbell Lawler, Kenley Whittaker, Kate Gore and Cammy Gore.

The Polka Dots read on their own time, eventually meeting twice a week to practice mock questions in preparation for competition as the school tournament neared. They earned the No. 1 seed, sailing through to regionals, where they hit their first snag. Kenley was not able to attend the tournament due to a conflicting gymnastics tournament, meaning The Polka Dots needed a replacement. In stepped JJ, who had previously competed with a different Boones Ferry team.

"For me, my favorite memory was coming back from my gymnastics competition and seeing them get all the questions right without me. They did great," Kenley says.

During battles, teams get just a few seconds to confer with one another before answering questions. If they get the answer wrong the opposing team then gets the opportunity to "steal." The Polka Dots say refraining from blurting out the answer can be difficult, but that their teamwork improved with each battle. With JJ in the fold they took turns competing in battles, improving with each question. They say the nerves increased when they advanced to regionals and

then state, but that battles were always fun.

Now that the season is over the fifth-graders say they'll compete at the middle school level next year, while JJ says he hopes to return to state in his fifth-grade year, and add his name to the Boones Ferry library OBOB plaque a second time. While competition is fun, The Polka Dots say the books remain the best part about the competition.

"Even though I don't normally read other books I do more now after OBOB," Cammy says. "They said if you read all the OBOB books one time it's over a million words. And we've read all the books at least twice, so that fact that we've read that many words is really cool."

Contact Wilsonville Spokesman reporter Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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