Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 | 4 p.m.
For an event that promoted literacy, Monday’s kickoff to the Rebel Reading Challenge looked more like a high-octane pep rally.
There were Runnin’ Rebels signing autographs for screaming fans, UNLV cheerleaders waving colorful pom-poms and dancing Rebel Girls in red sequined dresses.
But there were moments of relative quiet, too, as local broadcast journalists read to nearly 7,000 Clark County School District fourth and fifth graders who packed the Thomas & Mack Center.
The event marked the start of a month-long competition for 33 elementary schools participating in the third-annual Rebel Reading Challenge. It was also the largest gathering of elementary school students in one place in Las Vegas history, according to event organizers UNLV Athletics and SuperPawn.
“Today is about kids having fun and getting excited about reading,” said Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones. “We wanted to bring all the kids together on a college campus and experience this kickoff challenge together.”
For 30 days, fourth- and fifth-grade students from participating schools will read as many books as they can. By the end of the month, the class from each grade that reads the most pages will win a pizza party, backpacks with school supplies and tickets to a UNLV basketball game.
In addition, the two teachers from the winning classes each get a $250 gift certificate for school supplies and books.
Since its inception in 2008, the Rebel Reading Challenge has grown from an eight-school competition to more than 30 schools. The theme this year is “Read to Know. Read to Grow.”
As part of the kickoff, the nonprofit literacy group Spread the Word Nevada donated a book to each participating child. SuperPawn also paid to transport the students to UNLV.
Radio personality Chet Buchanan emceed the event, which featured live and taped appearances from UNLV coaches and athletes, elected officials and celebrities, including Terry Fator, performers from “Jersey Boys,” “Phantom — the Las Vegas Spectacular,” and “The Lion King,” as well as Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh.
Media personalities from broadcast news stations read the children’s book “Oh, How I Wished I Could Read!” by John Gile. The story follows a boy through his nightmare where he can’t read signs that warn him about wet paint and cement, oncoming cars and poison ivy.
Before the event started, the lights dimmed and a message flashed on the JumboTron. The children read each sentence aloud:
“What if you couldn’t read this right now? Would you feel alone? Would you feel lost? The better you read, the better your life will be. Get good grades and go to college.”
The event underscores the importance of literacy and education in a city decimated by the economic downturn. Neal Smatresk stressed the role UNLV could play in helping to diversify Las Vegas’ economy.
“You are the leaders of tomorrow,” Smatresk said, addressing the thousands of elementary school students. “I want every one of you to believe you can come to UNLV, be the leaders you all want (to be) and make this city great.
“Knowledge is power,” he continued. “If you want to be powerful and knowledgeable, you’ve got to read because reading opens the door to knowledge.”