May 24, 2010
Participants in the 2010 Power of the Pen State Championship stream out of McGaw Chapel on their way to the first round of competition on Friday morning.
WOOSTER, Ohio - Overcast skies and intermittent drizzle failed to dampen the spirits or douse the creativity of Ohio's best young writers at the annual Power of the Pen State Tournament on Friday at The College of Wooster. More than 700 middle-school students, equipped with extra pens and keen imaginations, made their way to campus from various locations around the state, hoping to put their best words forward in an event that underscores the value of verbal expression.
"Power of the Pen gives you a chance to write and get feedback," says Emily Lehmkuhl an eighth
grader at St. Joseph Middle School in Sylvania. "It makes you think outside the box, and it really helps you to improve your writing."
Lehmkuhl and her fellow students competed in three 35-minute rounds on Friday morning. This year's prompts (statements or questions to which the students respond) included one of the more perplexing problems in education today - bullying. "Who are they?" asked the prompt. "Those teenage tormentors who use words as weapons of human destruction." Other prompts were much lighter, but equally thought provoking: "You've got to get rid of it, but how?" and "America the ________ ."
After the preliminary rounds, the leading point getters advanced to a power round, from which the top 15 students in each grade were selected. In between the morning and afternoon sessions, guest author Margaret Peterson Haddix, who wrote Among the Hidden and Palace of Mirrors, spoke to the group about her experience as a writer.
Following the power round, Rowena Zuercher of nearby John R. Lea Middle School emerged as the winner of the seventh-grade competition, while Emily Williams of Vandalia St. Christopher became the tournament's first two-time champion by finishing first among the eighth graders. In the team competition, St. Michael's Middle School of Canton won the top prize, followed by Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School in second and Hawken School in third.
Lorraine Merrill, the matriarch of the program, reflected on the concept she created 25 years ago and assessed its impact during the past quarter century. "Power of the Pen has been a life-changing experience for many of the students who have been involved over the years," said Merrill, a College of Wooster graduate who launched the program in 1986 while teaching English at Nordonia High School. "It empowers them with self-confidence and a voice of their own. As one writer observed, 'it's more than winning a trophy; it's finding out that somebody believes in me and what I have to say.'"
At the end of the day, Merrill, who works tirelessly with her husband, Frank, and children, Tom, Lee, and Beth, to lure corporate sponsors and encourage loyal teachers to volunteer as judges each year, was exhausted. But she still found time to do what she enjoys most about the competition - collect the top submissions and read them that evening. "I can hardly wait to see what they say,"
she said. "Every year we are blown away by the quality of the students' writing."
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