LIMA — In today’s digital age, self-expression is often made through a cell phone’s video camera lens. On Saturday, a group of middle school students gathered to bring their creative talents to the world the old-fashioned way, by putting pen to paper.
Since 1986, Ohio middle school students have had the opportunity to put their creative writing skills on display through Power of the Pen, an interscholastic creative writing competition unique to the Buckeye State.
Ohio State-Lima hosted one of two of the competition’s northwest district competitions Saturday, with eight area schools sending seventh- and eighth-grade writers to compete for both individual honors as well as a team win for each grade. The competition consists of three 40-minute writing sessions, with the prompts for each session not provided in advance. The compositions are then graded by judges to determine the winner.
The northwest region includes Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Fulton, Hardin, Hancock, Henry, Lucas, Mercer, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, Williams, Wood, Wyandot and Van Wert counties.
“All schools in Ohio have the opportunity to have a seventh-grade and eighth-grade team that consists of up to six writers, so a single school can bring 12 students at the maximum,” said Karaline Grubaugh, Power of the Pen’s northwest regional director.
Grubaugh is a veteran of the competition herself, participating while a middle school student in St. Marys. For her, this competition gives students an opportunity to foster a sense of community in their school, especially for those who may not fit into the more traditional niches that come through areas like athletics or music.
“Maybe you’re not an athlete, maybe you’re not musically inclined or maybe you’re not an artist, but you have the creative writing skill and the storytelling skill,” she said. “I do think it’s more important to have them joining the teams and have the kids continue to write.”
New Bremen’s eighth-grade team won the team competition for its grade. For coach Theresa Newbright, the accomplishment represents the culmination of a lot of effort from her writers.
“We meet every Wednesday after school,” she said. “Some weeks, the kids do a practice timed writing during our meeting. We also look through the book of winners, which is a publication that comes out every year, and the kids look for what makes a winning piece.”
For the writers, it is all about making a connection.
“(It’s about) vivid descriptions of people, places, things like that,” Nirvana Hoffmasters said. “Show, don’t tell.”
For Norah Grillot, the appeal is in the variety of tales they can bring to life.
“(It’s great) having many stories to choose from,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be just one or two specific stories.”
In today’s technology-saturated culture, having the ability to express oneself in words is more important now than ever, Grubaugh said.
“There’s so much AI and ChatGPT and so much out there, I think that having those actual human words on paper and having that creative outlet is so important, not only for students to be able to express themselves, but to have actual interaction,” she said. “A lot of the interaction they’re having now is on social media. It’s what they read on Facebook. So when they’re able to sit down and actually put their thoughts down on paper, when they’re able to get their friends to join the team, it really is a skill that sets them up for success beyond the classroom.”
A second district competition will take place Feb. 3 in Tiffin, with the northwest regional tournament scheduled for March 2 at Lourdes University in Sylvania.
POWER OF THE PEN WINNERS
7th Grade Individual
• 1st Place: Angelica Teets, West Side Montessori, Toledo
• 2nd Place: Anelia Zajac, West Side Montessori, Toledo
• 3rd Place: Claire Holscher, Houston Junior High
8th Grade Individual
• 1st Place: Kara Suchland, New Bremen Junior High
• 2nd Place: Kaelyn Richardson, Houston Junior High
• 3rd Place: Lillian Morris, Wapakoneta Junior High
7th Grade Team
• 1st Place: West Side Montessori, Toledo
• 2nd Place: Houston Junior High
• 3rd Place: Kenton Middle School
8th Grade Team
• 1st Place: New Bremen Junior High
• 2nd Place: Houston Junior High
• 3rd Place: West Side Montessori, Toledo