Imagination Unleashed at Power of the Pen’s State Championship

Young writers produce compelling stories at annual tournament hosted by The College of Wooster

May 25, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Middle school students have plenty of ways to express themselves these days — from texting to tweeting to tagging — but the 700 seventh and eighth graders who gathered at The College of Wooster last Friday (May 25) took a much more traditional approach. As contestants in the 27th Power of the Pen State Championship, these gifted young authors set aside their smart phones and replaced them with paper, pencil, and plenty of imagination.

The students, who qualified for state from an original pool of more than 7,000 contestants by advancing through district and regional competitions, were greeted by prompts designed to stretch and sometimes strain their brains in each of the first three preliminary rounds on Friday morning. Topics included “The Shell: Crawl into or out of one in your story” for seventh graders, and “Enigma: Write about one that baffles you” for eighth graders. The top finishers moved on to a power round, and the champions were determined from there.

The winner of the seventh-grade competition was Rachel Barkley of Indian Valley Middle School. She was followed by Molly Zachlin (Gesu School) in second and Ellie Kapcar (Mariemont Junior High) in third. The eighth-grade winner was Audrey Spensley of Learwood Middle School in Avon Lake, followed by Lily Lu (Mason Middle School) in second, and Elisa Stanis (Summit Country Day) in third. The team championship went to Timberstone Junior High School, followed by Henry Carrier Middle School in second and Athens Middle School in third.

Also honored during Friday afternoon’s award ceremony were Abby Studebaker (Tecumseh Middle School), Brittney Dorton (Mason Middle School), and Emma Fenstermaker (Athens Middle School), who finished first, second, and third, respectively, in the category of Most Promising Young Talent. All three received $24,000 scholarships ($6,000 per year for four years) to The College of Wooster if they enroll and are accepted following their graduation from high school. Fenstermaker also won The Elise M. Beachler Award for Creative Young Talent among eighth graders for “Happy Place,” while Katelyn Vlastaris (Birchwood School) was the seventh-grade winner for “The Clone.”

Other award winners included Isabella Nilsson (Hathaway Brown School) for her humorous piece, “Alex in Wonderland,” and Max Berry (Northridge Middle School) for his poem, “Theater.”

But even those who didn’t finish among the winners felt good about their experience. “It was amazing,” said Whitney Kneffler, an eighth grader from Welty Middle School in New Philadelphia. Her coach, Diana Burkey, also spoke in glowing terms about Power of the Pen. “It’s a great program for students, a great outlet for creative expression,” she said.

Diane Compton, the coach at Mentor Shore Middle School, was equally enthusiastic. “I never cease to be amazed by what these students are able to create at their age,” she said. “I am really inspired by them.”

Perhaps the biggest news at the tournament was the announcement that Stan and Flo Gault, longtime benefactors of The College of Wooster, had become the newest sponsors of Power of the Pen. Flo, an English major while a student at Wooster, did her Senior Independent Study (Wooster’s nationally renowned undergraduate research experience) on author John Wesley, and his impact on other noteworthy literary figures.

Inspired by Wesley’s call to “do all the good you can,” Flo advised Power of the Pen contestants to reach within themselves to find the inspiration to write words that propel them to the world of their greatest imagination. “Take pride in appreciating those words of wisdom written before,” she said. “One day, your love, your life, and your accomplishments will undoubtedly blossom as well.”