Grammar Bowl Makes Impressive Debut at GCU
By Doug Carroll
Photos by Tim Koors
Can you identify the three types of verbs?
Know the difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions?
Does this sound like fun?
If your answers were no, no and heavens no, then you weren’t part of Saturday’s first-ever Grammar Bowl at Ethington Theatre on the GCU campus. A total of 23 ninth-graders from Arizona competed for attractive prizes (more about those later) during a two-hour test of grammar skills.
TV stations in Phoenix; Hartford, Conn.; Champaign, Ill., and Jacksonville, Fla., carried reports on the event.
The format was similar to what you would find at a spelling bee, with Bob Safran of EGUMPP serving as master of ceremonies and head judge. EGUMPP (Electronic Grammar Usage Mechanics Proficiency Program) is an online grammar, usage, punctuation and writing program developed by Safran, who is marketing it to schools across the country.
“Everybody’s concerned about the grammar skills of students today,” says Safran, of York, Pa. “What we have is a 21st-century approach to it. It’s a modern way to teach this. The product itself is a teacher’s best friend.”
Even college-level instructors are jumping on board, Safran says. The journalism department at Texas Christian University makes the program a writing-class requirement, and the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte also are using it.
However, Saturday’s focus was on the ninth-graders who had advanced to the Arizona finals by virtue of their scores on a written test. Although most were from metropolitan Phoenix, some had traveled from as far as Prescott and Snowflake.
After a grueling 12 rounds of identifying words and clauses within sentences that were flashed across a large screen, Mercedes Larios of the Arizona School for the Arts, a charter school in central Phoenix, emerged as the champion. She received a $10,000 scholarship to GCU, an iPad, an iPod, $200 and a trophy in the shape of a bowl (naturally).
Larios, who showed remarkable poise throughout the day, said she had learned about the contest from a newspaper ad and decided it was for her.
“I’ve always been a good writer,” she said, “but I’ve had a lack of grammar knowledge. The (online program) really applied to that, and it can help me be a better writer.”
Starting in January, Larios said she devoted her spare time to preparing for the contest, studying note cards so that she could identify a gerund or an appositive.
“You have to motivate yourself,” she said. “Up until last year, I thought I would go into education (for a career). But this has been a year of finding myself. Grand Canyon University’s slogan is ‘Find Your Purpose,’ and maybe I can do that. I’ll probably study writing, because it’s a talent I have.”
Only two contestants were eliminated in the first four rounds. After the competition had been reduced to 16, the students went head-to-head in pairs, using hand-operated buzzers and working against a timer. The intensity increased proportionately.
The “Fabulous Four” finalists — Larios, Erin Solomon of Snowflake High School, Akua Owusu-Dommey of Gilbert Classical Academy and Vivian Cook of Northpoint Academy in Prescott — each won a scholarship to GCU. Larios defeated Solomon in the championship round.
John Huppenthal, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, was in the audience and gave the Grammar Bowl high marks.
“This was beyond impressive,” he said. “I want to take a look at the software that’s behind this. I’ve talked to our standards specialists about it. We’d want to integrate this in the proper way.
Safran said the inaugural event, coordinated by GCU’s public affairs manager, Ashley Raposa, couldn’t have gone better.
“We’re already planning next year’s,” Safran said. “We need to improve grammar skills, and this is how to do it, by giving students training and making it competitive.”
The 23 competitors and their prizes:
- $10,000 GCU scholarship, iPad, iPod, $200: Mercedes Larios, Arizona School for the Arts, Phoenix.
- $5,000 GCU scholarship, iPad, iPod, $200 (part of “Fabulous Four” round): Erin Solomon, Snowflake High School (second place); Akua Owusu-Dommey, Gilbert Classical Academy; Vivian Cook, Northpoint Academy, Prescott.
- iPad, iPod, $200 (part of “Magnificent Eight” round): Sarah Wright, home schooled; JoAnn Nam, Desert Vista High School; Jennifer Zhang, Desert Vista High School; Taylor Breaux, Gilbert Classical Academy.
- iPod, $200 (part of “Super 16” round): Zachary Pearson, Foothills Academy, Scottsdale; Sarah Powell, home schooled; Amber Pakos, Mesquite High School; JiSue Han, Desert Vista High School; Ariana Marsh, home schooled; Helen Sung, Desert Vista High School; Kevin Tian, Mesquite High School; Sterling Pendleton, Shepherd Junior High School, Mesa.
- iPod, $200: Ashley Demyan, Agua Fria High School; Dewey Jefferies, Chandler High School; Rachel Addington, Mesquite High School; Alex Witt, Gilbert Classical Academy; Jake Jones, home schooled; Jessica Norman, Saguaro High School; Sarah Chugg, Snowflake High School.
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.