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Writing & winning across state lines

Creativity, skills earn middle-schoolers high marks

Caledonia —  A trailblazing team of writers are going where no eighth-grader in Caledonia has gone before: JustWrite Ohio’s high school state final writing tournament.

After JustWrite Michigan’s first-year competition for those in grades 7-12 was canceled, seven middle schoolers from Duncan Lake and their coach, English teacher Jessie Belote, were able to compete in Ohio’s regionals in February. 

Despite being younger than high-schoolers and from another state, the Caledonia Creative Writing Team earned third place in their division. 

“We’re eighth-graders from Michigan who competed against high-schoolers in Ohio,” said eighth-grader Gabby Linker, who placed fifth among 15 individual writers. 

Belote said she jumped on the idea to form a creative writing team after she discovered the non-profit program she worked with was offering a Michigan competition in 2022.

Eighth-grader Ellie Grinstead won one of three Laureate Choice Awards for her poem, ‘Treasure Pressure’ at the regional tournament (courtesy)

Treasure Pressure
By Eliana Grinstead

People tell me I am beauty,
Yet they lock me out of sight,
I just want to make someone happy,
I just want to see the light.

Golden as the beach,
Sunken in the waves,
Flowing through the tides,
Can’t make a mistake.

Caged within these walls,
For what feels like eternity,
Am I really worth that much?
Should I be celebrated in glory?
What if one day I lose my shine?
What if I’m only an extra in somebody else’s story?

I must stand out,
I have to be seen,
Get me out of this cage,
Treat me like a queen,
I stick out from the crowd,
I’m like a jelly bean,
Except I’m the best flavor,
Don’t you like green?
Don’t I stick out?
Don’t I pop out of the screen?

Pirates come looking,
X marks the spot,
Let me out of this chest,
Lift up the top,
Fit me with my key,
Make all the pressure stop.

If I make someone happy,
Truly in delite,
Maybe I won’t feel as hallow,
Maybe I will see the light.

Before the team was ready to compete, they gathered for practice once a week leading up to regionals. They’re given a prompt and time to write a thoughtful and condensed story.

In competition, “We get a prompt and a genre, 45 minutes, and we have to write the prompt and get a score out of 700 points,” eighth-grader Addison Cook said.

There are seven genres in competition: classic horror, realistic fiction, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, narrative nonfiction and historical fiction. Every student must be prepared to write for any genre, as they do not know which one they will get until the prompt is given. 

Eighth-grader Andrew Barnum said he learned he is “really good” at writing historical fiction because he “gets to blow stuff up and it makes sense for the genre.”

Sometimes when she’s writing, Addison “throws the plot out the window,” she said, or kills off a main character to make the story more dramatic. 

“The more short stories I’ve written, the more I realized I’ve created a whole multiverse with my short stories,” Addison said. “Somehow they’re all connected and it’s fun.” 

Ellie Grinstead added: “My tastes in storytelling have changed. I used to write fantasy and now I like to write dark, non-realistic fiction.” 

Ellie also submitted her work to JustWrite’s poetry contest and received one of three Laureate Choice Awards for her poem, ‘Treasure Pressure’ at the regional tournament. 

The Caledonia Creative Writing Team’s mascot, Gregory the Rat, and the third place trophy from the JustWrite Ohio regional tournament

Stories Can Help

Every student on the creative writing team had their own reason for participating. 

Eighth-grader Ella Miller heard about the opportunity from her English teacher and wanted a reason to write outside of class. 

Abby called writing an escape.

“If I’m stressed I can stop and read a book, and sometimes I want to rewrite the story or characters,” she said. 

Katelyn added: “Stories help a lot of people. They’ve helped me. It’s weird how fantasy or science fiction can help people find themselves in the world.”  

The team will travel to Findlay University on May 21 to compete in the state finals and participate in writing workshops. 

“I’m excited to see how they do,” Belote said. “This is a growing program and I’m excited to watch them develop over the next few years and give writers more opportunities in Michigan.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio

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