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JustWrite Ohio: The History, The Mission, and The Experience

This article was written by students in the "Writing For Publication" class at Dublin Jerome High School taught by Mrs. Trisler. All views and opinions in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinions nor policies of Dublin Jerome High School.

JustWrite Ohio: The History, The Mission, and The Experience

Since March of 1997, JustWrite has provided Ohio high schoolers with an outlet for their creative writing talents.

by Heidi Herman and Lauren Toth

Mar 14, 2023

At first mention, the rudimentary title of JustWrite seems simple. How could two words form the basis of an ever-popular writing program among Ohio high schools? Slowly but surely, the competitions are gaining more and more participants; Dublin Jerome only started competing in the 2020 season and has earned tremendous success in that time. There’s much history to JustWrite, and while much can be indebted to Power of the Pen, the competition truly challenges its competitors in a way dissimilar to any other creative writing tournament. Behind the extracurricular organization are countless leaders making it happen, ranging from founders to tournament judges. Thanks to them, many high schoolers are able to exhibit their passion for storytelling and attain incredible honors while doing so.

The JustWrite organization started in March 1997. The person responsible for its creation is the founder and executive director, Michael Nelson. His inspiration came from a lack of writing opportunities outside of school and academics. He wanted to create a judgment-free platform where teenagers could express themselves in their words and inspire others to do the same. In order to get kids excited about it, he added the element of having teams and competitions so it could feel more like a sport. The JustWrite board of directors includes Mylene Hodges, a retired business owner who is passionate about the JustWrite non-profit and seeing it succeed. Also, a part of the board is gifted intervention specialist Sarah Nelson with a background in 7-12th grade education. She has a passion to inspire kids to find their inner truth through writing and literacy. The final member, Kathleen Pollock, is a retired gifted intervention coordinator who has spent 25 years in education. She appreciates the fact that JustWrite enables kids to express their passion through words.

But how does a day at a JustWrite competition go? Separated into two divisions, the competition consists of three 45-minute writing rounds in which competitors are assigned a prompt corresponding with one of the seven applicable genres with which writers need to be familiar. These include Narrative Nonfiction, Classic Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, and Fantasy. At each level of competition, regional and state, 15 writers in each division are recognized and awarded for their impressive works. A school can participate by entering up to 12 total students, 6 underclassmen, and 6 upperclassmen. Additionally, there is a poetry contest in which entries are written based on a predetermined prompt and brought to the tournament site. Similarly, qualifiers advance to the state level in this Power of Poetry program. In general, JustWrite is an engaging and explorative way for high schoolers to write competitively with their peers.

In order to fully grasp the foundation of JustWrite, students from Jerome’s “Writing for Publications” class conducted a brief online interview with founder Michael Nelson. The lightbulb moment that lit a world for so many high school writers actually began with his wife, Sarah Nelson. She is a middle school teacher who happens to be a writing coach for Power of the Pen, a writing contest designed for 7th and 8th graders. One year, when Power of the Pen was canceled, Sara Nelson decided to host her own writing competition, and so JustWrite was born. She took the liberty to organize and run the writing competition. This drive and devotion to student writers, along with his admiration for his wife, inspired Nelson to found JustWrite. In the interview, he stated that if he were no longer able to run JustWrite, his first choice would easily be to pass the role down to his wife.

The last question, a little less formal in nature, was what Nelson’s favorite prompt was from past state or regional competitions. His favorite was not used in the official competition, but the practice prompt is still playful and vague enough to bring great stories to life- “Splat!”. But, in terms of competition prompts, one he particularly liked was “Chasing the Enemy- use this as the main theme of your narrative.” It provided an outlet for some excellent pieces during JustWrite’s inaugural season.

JustWrite is a great way for kids to just write, of course, but it's also a great way to encourage different sorts of expression. They can tune into their true experiences, construct complex mysteries, create distant, surreal universes, and much more. But to delve into what the “official” purpose of the program is, it may prove beneficial to refer to this excerpt from

JustWrite Mission Statement: As a 501(c)(3) JustWrite, Inc. is committed to the power of the written word by:

assisting educators in the facilitation of English Language Arts state standards by providing instructional support on the topic of creative writing, while offering a platform for networking and idea development; thus, enhancing the academic and gifted achievement of participants;

working to inspire, praise, and build confidence in teens by assisting them in discovering and developing their own creative voice, through the process of multi-genre written expression and interpretation; thus, helping teens recognize the power of their words;

committing to engage and recognize the importance of literacy in the communities served; while acknowledging the direct connection between reading and writing.

Furthermore, the JustWrite organization happens to be a grant recipient of the Nikki Delamotte Award. This award is a scholarship given to one outstanding student piece in each state competition and it acknowledges the memory of the late Nikki Delamotte, a Cleveland journalist who tragically passed away on November 14th, 2018. As a strong advocate for the voices of youth and their writing, an organization like JustWrite is the perfect place to honor her legacy.

The DJHS Writing TeamOn Saturday, February 18, the Dublin Jerome Writing Team brought 10 competitors to the JustWrite regional tournament at Dublin Coffman High School. The high school students were coached by 2 English teachers from Jerome, Mrs. Gail Garee and Mrs. Michele Trisler. Earning much success, the team had several members place in the top 15 for Division I and Division II. These accomplished writers are to advance to the state-level competition on Thursday, May 11 at the University of Findlay. A few of them illustrate their experience at the event and describe their thoughts throughout the day.

Lauren Toth - 10th place in Division I: This was my first time competing at JustWrite, so it’s fair to say I was on edge most of the day. It was actually really similar to Power of the Pen, which I had the opportunity to compete in last year and ended up placing sixth in the state. Having this under my belt was sort of reassuring, but the newly-introduced concept of associating your story with a given genre was a little intimidating. Luckily, I wasn’t assigned either of the genres I was dreading: Mystery and Historical Fiction; those were left to Division II. So, I guess I owe some of my success to the prompts, which weren’t nearly as difficult as they could’ve been. Plus, the competition was run very smoothly and awards were given on time, according to schedule. The officials and judges were kind, understanding, and approachable, which made my experience really enjoyable. Parked outside the school were two food trucks, one of which had these ginormous cream puffs. Just like the confection, my busy Saturday was whimsical, pleasurable, and very sweet. Coming out of it, I am excitedly anticipating the state tournament in a few months.

Olivia Went - 1st place in Division II: This was my second year at the JustWrite competition and it was just as fun as the first. I placed 1st in the regional competition and 2nd in the state competition in Division II last year, but the prompts this year were much more challenging. My favorite prompts are usually Science Fiction and Horror, but this year’s prompts were Narrative Nonfiction, Mystery, and Historical Fiction, my least favorite genres. Despite the challenge, I was proud of the stories I was able to create. Everyone at the competition was kind and passionate about their craft, and it was a very fun atmosphere. Like always, the competition was nerve-wracking at the beginning, but afterward, I enjoyed talking with my teammates, discussing our stories, and hanging out. We also listened to a local author discuss the importance and process of creative writing. Ultimately, I’m incredibly grateful for the JustWrite competition because it has given me the opportunity to challenge and express myself through writing, and I’m excited about competing in the state competition in May.

It can be easily assumed that JustWrite has made a significant impact on student writers. The nonprofit has a rich history and continues to add to its legacy each year. At Jerome, in order to participate in JustWrite, one should become a member of the Writing Team, coached by Michele Trisler. Competitors or not, writing is such a powerful tool that is important to exercise outside of the standard curriculum. Although the overview of the program has concluded, the 2023 season is far from doing the same. Be sure to support the handful of Jerome students who will partake in the state tournament in May!