Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Erin Aulfinger (Central High School)
On Valentine’s Day students from as far away as Illinois gathered at the University of Memphis for a friendly writing competition.
These schools, each forming a Wordsmith “team,” brought several students, anywhere from one to eight, to participate. The teams are difficult to get a place on, as a school can only have two students per grade.
Coming from around 30 schools, the students had to participate in three to four “dashes.” These dashes gave them a chance to exercise their creative muscles. They are judged within their own grade; the youngest were in seventh, the oldest seniors in high school.
This year’s theme, though expected to be romantic, was “Hunka Hunka Wordin’ Love,” and featured door prizes from the Graceland gift shop and an icebreaker game of “Pin the Sideburn on the Elvis.”
The first dash was the 120-word. Students were given several headlines to choose from–including about Graceland, and the “Black Lives Matter” campaign.
The director of the event, Catherine Dice, carefully read the instructions for newcomers.
“You will have 30 minutes to write a letter to the editor of an imaginary newspaper about one of these headlines. It must be 88-132 words in length, not counting your greeting or signature,” she told the group. She went on to answer questions about music, phones, and identification.
After this dash, the students were given two photos. They would choose between these for the 80-word dash, in which they would narrate a photograph. One was a calm picture of Elvis outside his Audubon home; the other, a picture of screaming fans.
The final dash, a 40-word and 10-minute description of an item, involved studying small rhinestones. They were of varying sizes and colors, and some in states of disrepair, offering more variety in the writings about them. Some got small blue stones with pristine backings of silver. Others had larger purple ones with a chunk out of the side.
After the dashes were complete, the students waited with cookies and punch for the judging—completed by team coaches and teachers—to finish and for awards to be handed out. After this, everyone filtered back into the room, where every grade received four to five ribbons for each dash. Anyone with a ribbon could then participate in the “Main Event.”
The main event is a 400-word personal essay. Those who are allowed to join the largest dash are given three prompts. This year, they were about words and the importance of them. One asked for a quote or lyric which resonated with you; another asked you to give a word that was beautiful to you.
Later, these were scored, and in the same fashion as the other dashes, the winners were released via Facebook. These winners included Teen Appeal writers Kira Tucker and Erin Aulfinger.
Medals were counted up for each school. White Station Middle School’s seventh and eighth graders won first place for number of medals in the middle school section. White Station High School had third place for ninth and 10th grade, and first for 11th and 12th. Collierville and Houston took second and third 11th grade, and Central High School claimed third place for 12th grade. Houston also took a tied medal award for 12th.
Overall, the experience allowed many students to participate in an activity they love with other writing enthusiasts.