Second-grader Warren Hendry was so excited about being honored for his improvement in reading that when his name was called, he leaped over the back of his chair and stepped rapidly toward the lectern.
There, Betty Durden, president of the Hernando County Reading Council, told the audience that the 7-year-old Deltona Elementary School pupil had started the school year at reading Level 2, but has advanced to Level 5.
Warren smiled and shook Mrs. Durden's hand, then turned to Tampa Bay Bucs offensive lineman Charles McRae, who congratulated Warren and gave him a certificate.
The top of Warren's head didn't quite reach McRae's belt buckle, but that didn't seem to matter.
This was Warren's night, and he was standing tall.
Warren was one of 36 students recognized Thursday night at Parrott Middle School during the annual Literacy Week banquet for the Hernando school district's most improved readers. (See complete list on page 3.)
The guests of honor ranged from little tykes like Warren to 48-year-old Harley Smithie, who dropped out of school at an early age and learned to read just last year in the school district's adult education program.
All shared one thing in common: They're a lot better and more enthusiastic readers today than they were at the beginning of the school year.
The themes that sounded again and again Thursday night were that reading can be fun and that it is the key to every other success in life.
McRae, the guest speaker, told of growing up "out in the boonies" in Tennessee and, for entertainment, reading from an outdated set of World Book encyclopedias. He isn't a fast reader, he said, but he likes reading.
Numerous success stories followed.
Mrs. Durden told how Elly Ann Rodriquez, a pupil at J.
D. Floyd Elementary School, reads extra books beyond those assigned in class.
Floyd pupil Brandee Kruse writes and illustrates books.
Jonathan Warnock of Floyd has learned to appreciate reading so much that now he helps other pupils with their reading lessons.
At the beginning of the school year, Scott Mentink, a pupil at Parrott, told his teacher he had little interest in reading. After doing his first book report, though, he got hooked and now carries an A average in reading.
Andrew Hastings has improved his reading grade by 25 points at West Hernando Middle School and has moved into the advanced class.
Joe Webster of Powell Middle School says he reads an average of 10 books a week _ everything from war histories to books about science and astronomy.
Warren said he began reading more "so I could learn better."
Denise Moen, literacy coordinator for Hernando schools and Literacy Week chairwoman, told the audience there are an estimated 15,000 illiterate adults in Hernando County.
Her job is to try to reduce that number. And part of that effort is to attempt to reach children early and impress on them the importance of reading.
The Literacy Week banquet rewards students who have worked particularly hard to improve themselves.
The banquet "is something for those who are not always in the spotlight," Mrs. Moen said. "Usually, it encourages and motivates the students to try even harder."
Without doubt, this year's 36 honorees are a testament to what a little work and diligence can do.