BAY VILLAGE — Armed and ready with months of weekly meetings where they wrote hundreds of stories with just a sentence or two as their inspiration, Bay Middle School students this month conquered a grueling battle of words. When the last “i” was dotted and period placed at the end of the concluding sentence, the results were announced: Eight of them will be competing in the Northeast Ohio Regional Tournament, being held at Villa Angela, St. Joseph High School in Cleveland on April 6.

But the regional tournament, the last stop before statewide competition, is not really the goal for the 12 Bay students who are members of the Power of the Pen school club. It is simply the joy of writing and storytelling that draws about 30 students to the weekly Friday after-school meetings.

“Twenty-one schools, including us, were competing,” said Helen Goldberg, the seventh-grade language arts teacher and moderator/coach for the Power of the Pen club. This is her sixth year working with the Power of Pen writers at Bay Middle School. This year’s competition was held at Columbia Middle School in Columbia Station. In addition to eight students moving on, seventh-grade student Faith Beatty, 13, won her grade-level Individual Award.

“I didn’t really tell the students there were that many schools competing,” she added, sitting in her classroom recently with four of the student participants. “They did really well! We came in fourth place in both seventh- and eighth-grade (categories).”

Power of the Pen organizers have a simple, but difficult goal, as outlined on its website: “Because the ideas, dreams and beliefs of today's youth form the foundation of tomorrow's communities in Ohio, Power of the Pen is dedicated to helping young people find and develop a creative voice that is uniquely their own. It is a mission we will realize when we inspire every teacher and challenge every student to truly embrace the art of creative expression through writing as a life skill.”

Statewide, more than 7,500 students compete annually in the tournament, now in its 33rd year.

“I have always liked writing,” said seventh-grade student Emma Lindway, 13, who is moving on to regional competition and, like her fellow competitors, loves reading. Her favorite authors are Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Stephanie Meyer.

Loving the written word — and thinking quickly on your feet — is a prerequisite for Power of the Pen writers, who have to be in seventh or eighth grade. The competition involves three rounds in which each student is given a prompt such as “Let’s make a deal — and what happens” or “It’s a crisp fall day” and has 40 minutes to write a story. The stories are then judged on content and storytelling.

“I like to write because it’s a fun way to express yourself,” said seventh-grade student Noelle Oppewall, 13, whose favorite authors include April Henry and who loves reading mysteries. “I always want to improve.”

Eighth-grade student Ella Tenerowicz, 13, agreed. “I like Mrs. Goldberg a lot, too. She’s a neat teacher.”

Fellow eighth-grader Ted Donahue, 14, knows exactly what he wants to do as a career — he wants to be a writer, possibly writing for the movies and TV. That’s why he enjoys the spontaneity and hard work involved in Power of the Pen. He also takes inspiration from author Michael Crichton.

All the students agreed that the best way to write is to use your own voice, and don’t try to write what you think other people — especially the judges — might want.

“I had the most trouble with the prompt ‘Who are you,’ ” said Noelle. “You had to include that line in the narrative.”

There are challenges other than coming up with stories or narratives, all the students agreed: By the end of the very long day, their fingers hurt from gripping their pens. “I could barely hold my pen,” said Ella, laughing.

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