It's a 90° October day in Warrensville, North Carolina, and about five hundred students are squeezed into the old wooden bleachers in the gym, watching their 7th-grade teacher get handcuffed by the county sheriff.

Why? It's all part of getting the students at Ashe County Middle School excited about vocab learning this year so they can accomplish a huge goal — winning the new Vocabulary Bowl Division III Middle School Champions trophy.

To jump start that goal, the school held a kickoff extravaganza that started with a raucous assembly and culminated in a power session where all five hundred students logged in to and got cracking on their first assignment.

County sheriff "arrests" 7th grade teacher Mr. Dalton Lewis, whose antics demonstrated the word renegade.

We Got Schooled on Kicking the Bowl Off Right

Here at we've seen a lot of pep rallies. But what we've never seen is a principal promise to sleep in a tent on the school roof if his students master 100,000 words during the season. The Bulldogs mastered 80,000 words last year, so we fully expect that Mr. Farmer will be spending a long night in a sleeping bag on top of the gym next spring.

Ashe County MS rocketed to the top of the Div. III leaderboards in year one of competing.

The teachers at Ashe County Middle School also got in on the fun, introducing the first vocabulary assignment of the year by acting out ten different words with skits, cheers, and even gymnastics. The nurse's gruesome reenactment of the word laceration was a big hit.

The audience went wild for dramatizations of the words rapacious, laceration, and flip.

In addition to involving staff members in the big event, the school figured out how to get the whole community involved. State Representative Ray Russell came to express his pride and encouragement. And the students were delighted to hear MaryAnne Moore, owner of the local McDonald's, announce that her restaurant will provide free food to every student who puts in the effort and meets their word learning goals this year.

Local business owner Mrs. MaryAnne Moore with school principal Mr. Dustin Farmer, and 7th-grade teacher and pep rally emcee Mr. Todd Rivver.

It's "All In" at Ashe County Middle School

After all the antics at the pep rally, which was really more of an extravaganza, the entire student body returned to the different wings of the building and plunked down on the floor with their Chromebooks. All five hundred kids logged in to and dived into their first assignment, and for the first time that day it was relatively quiet as everyone concentrated on their work. The students were not just getting a jump start on the year-long competition. They were given the challenge of mastering more words than any other school in North America that very day so they could start the 2019–2020 Bowl season at number one on the overall leaderboard. The Bulldogs kept at it into the night and ended October 1st in first place with 4,791 words mastered.

500 students lined the halls and got cracking on day one.

A Celebration of Learning, Not Just Competing

As much as the kickoff event was about competing in the Vocabulary Bowl, it was just as much about learning. 7th grade ELA and Social Studies teacher Todd Rivver explained, "The Vocabulary Bowl adds energy, spice, and focus to our word learning process. It is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on our vocab fire." Mr. Rivver, who organized and emceed the kickoff event, added that competing in the Vocabulary Bowl "helps us to move the needle in an academic direction when kids are home, and helps us invigorate vocabulary learning while at school. It is another positive reason for students to get out of bed five days a week and want to come to school."

Ashe County teachers play the role of coach in the Vocabulary Bowl.

Rallying Around Academic Achievement

On of our biggest takeaways from the event at Ashe County Middle School was seeing how the entire community, even beyond the school, has come together to recognize and encourage academic achievement for all students. As Mrs. Moore put it, "We're used to supporting the sports teams, which we are happy to do, but to be able to show our support for something that's academic is really special. That's something I was thrilled to get behind."