Judging a Kids Writing Contest

When I was in third grade, I won a poetry contest. Since then, I’ve loved entering my writing into different competitions. I faired decently, and the chance to see what I’d written published in a book or magazine was exciting. Once, I even got to read what I had written on the radio.

So in looking at the fun things we could do for South Dakota Conservation Digest: Kids Edition this year, I suggested we ask for submissions. This is a magazine for kids, so why shouldn’t some content be by kids?

Though originally slated for two pages, the submissions have been given a third page in the magazine.
Though originally slated for two pages, the submissions have been given a third page in the magazine.

Well, Thea, ever open-minded and ready to try something new, decided to let me go for it. Thanks to a bit of help from Kay, our TOC teacher resource center coordinator, and program specialist Emilie Miller in Pierre, we were able to get word out that we were looking for some South Dakota kids to put pen to paper and tell us about the outdoors.

Now, putting forth a campaign like this brings the same anxiety as throwing a party: What if nobody shows up? For the first week or so after I’d shipped off the notices, I started to get apprehensive. If nobody submitted, not only would I have to fill two pages of the magazine in a less exciting way, but I’d be bummed that my childhood interest in writing wasn’t reflected in today’s youth.

Looking back, the fear of no entries is laughable. About two weeks in, I got a few contest questions. Then entries started coming in. A short story here, one or two there. We’d left it open to either accounts of real experiences or fiction writing, and both came in slowly. A few poems began to join the procession, and then the floodgates burst open and the submissions filled my desk.

The two short stories and four poems selected will appear in the 2014 issue.
The two short stories and four poems selected will appear in the 2014 issue of South Dakota Conservation Digest: Kids Edition.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration; the numbers stayed (mostly) manageable. But thanks to a few schools using the contest in conjunction with class assignments and some great response from young writers-in-the-making, when we hit the deadline I was feeling a very different kind of apprehension: How am I going to choose winners from the 200 short stories and 75 poems submitted?

I was elated with the response, but at that point I realized that in all those contests I had done as a child, somebody had to pour over every single entry to find the one or two kids who would win. And now that was going to have to be me.

It helped that the submissions were fun. Kids wrote about times they loved being outside, the animals they saw, the time mom or dad took them kayaking and all sorts of other things. It made me chuckle every time someone used the phrase “my dad forced me” when writing about their first hunting experience, but by the end they seemed to be drinking in the South Dakota outdoors.

Choosing was a difficult process, but I was proud of every submission and want to thank everybody who participated.

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