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MASS READING OF POEM CLOSE BUT NO RECORD

It was Western New York versus the entire United Kingdom, and the little guy almost pulled off the big upset.

By a thin margin Al Gore would appreciate, Western New York's young poetry readers came close last week to adding their effort to the Guinness Book of Records, for the most people reading aloud simultaneously at multiple locations.

A total of 139,368 students read the Shel Silverstein poem "Hug O' War" at 436 schools across the region last Wednesday morning. The Guinness World Records mark still resides in England, where earlier this year, 155,528 students in 737 schools read aloud William Wordsworth's poem "Daffodils."

As the Brooklyn Dodgers' faithful used to say, "Wait 'til next year."

"I would have liked to win, but we were up against the whole United Kingdom," said Cindy Sterner, educational services manager at The Buffalo News. "This was just Western New York. For the first time out the door, we did a great job."

The local attempt, pumped up by the promotional efforts of morning hosts Janet Snyder and Nicholas Picholas from KISS 98.5, shattered what organizers previously thought was the existing record of 11,927 in Hong Kong. But a week before the mass reading, the local group learned about the drastically higher United Kingdom figure.

Still, the local effort earned rave reviews from educators.

"I've talked to a lot of principals, librarians and teachers, and they absolutely loved it," Sterner said. "It was a great literacy activity, it was fun, and everybody loves Guinness."

Snyder enjoyed watching schools work together, to achieve a common goal.

"There was something very, very special about everyone in our area reading the same thing at the same time," she said. "People got goose bumps hearing it actually happening. It was awesome."

Both women have their sights on breaking the record next year.

With only 553 eligible schools in the eight counties of Western New York, organizers want to shoot for 100 percent participation next year and enlist the help of parents' organizations.

They also could expand the effort to the Rochester area, but Snyder opposes that. "I don't want to give this to Rochester," she said. "This is ours. Finally, Buffalo's going to win something."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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