LARGO — "It's a tiebreaker."
The announcement by Fox 13 anchor Mark Wilson, who hosted Pinellas schools' Battle of the Books last week, drew gasps among the audience and the young contestants.
The morning's televised competition among six elementary schools at the district's administration building was intense.
To get to Thursday's battle and the final, the groups had to beat their own schoolmates and 66 teams from other schools. Members of each team had to read 15 books and know them inside out.
At the secondary school level, 23 middle school teams and 13 high school teams went through similar rounds before the best six groups of each level faced off in a game-show-like competition Thursday.
But all the suspense was in the elementary battle.
As Wilson read the tiebreaker questions, each team hovered over the buzzers.
Anona Elementary got the first two questions right. So did Lake St. George Elementary.
Parents, teachers and fellow students holding pom-poms and signs, held their breath.
"We have more. We'll be here all day if we have to," Wilson told the crowd.
Then, a breakthrough. Anona Elementary won.
The competition was so tight, there was only a 10-point different between the first and sixth places.
"That was tense," said Kayla McGee, the fifth-grade captain of Anona's team.
Her mother, Carissa, agreed.
"The most stressful part was watching them," she said.
Anona's team prepared extensively. They started reading last summer, read the books three times over the school year and practiced whenever they could with the 2,000 questions their teacher typed up for them, said Louise Chenault, Anona's library information specialist.
Madisen Dunning, Kayla's teammate, went as far as to eat the right things.
"I had pasta for dinner, and eggs for breakfast," she said. "It's brain food."
All contenders took home small plaques, while Anona Elementary will get to keep a traveling trophy for a year — again.
The school won in 2007-08.
Battle of the Books started out as a pilot for elementary schools 12 years ago and was expanded to include secondary schools, said Corinne McManning, who coordinates the annual competition.
"We just want to get kids to read," she said. "For one student to read 15 books … and to keep up with so many things in life, is amazing."