Under the guidance of Power of the Pen alum Sara Hardin and co-coach Shelley Regrut, the St. Brigid of Kildare team took first place in both the 7th and 8th grades at the Gahanna Middle School South District Tournament on February 20, 2021, a remarkable accomplishment. For Sara, coaching a Power of the Pen team provides an opportunity to inspire young writers, just as she was inspired by her Power of the Pen experiences in middle school.
“All writers need hope and self-confidence to not give up, but in middle school especially, there are so many writers who need the affirmation that they are good at this and should continue pursuing their dreams,” Sara says. “When I joined Power of the Pen in 2002 and started to do well at tournaments, I was given the strength to believe in myself and my work.”
A Tradition of Excellence
When Sara began teaching in 2011-2012 at St. Brigid of Kildare in Dublin, Ohio, she says she ran to the coach to help with the Power of the Pen team. Her co-coaches at St. Brigid offered invaluable insights into writing and coaching. One former co-coach, Jennifer Maschari, is now the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and Things That Surprise You. Sara’s work with Shelley, her current co-coach, began with a reunion of sorts – Shelley judged Sara’s 8th grade Power Round writing at the 2002 state tournament.
A smaller school, St. Brigid is driven to achieve excellence as they compete against teams from schools with higher enrollments. “In the past nine years, our school has gradually grown in the number of writers we've had qualify for regional and state tournaments, and we're proud of that improvement,” Sara says. “As a smaller school, we often feel like underdogs in the wider Power of the Pen community, and that mentality drives us to do the best we can.”
The Confidence to Be Unique
Because of the timed nature of the writing rounds, Power of the Pen helps improve students’ academic performance. “In the short term, being able to write under pressure is very helpful on standardized tests and contests,” Sara notes. “One time, I had to write a piece in 50 minutes for a college scholarship contest, and I remember calmly thinking, This is nothing compared to Power of the Pen!”
Far more important, however, is the role that Power of the Pen plays in helping middle school students form their identity. “The most valuable and intangible benefit of Power of the Pen is that it can add to your sense of self, as someone separate and unique and valuable in addition to the other writers in the room,” Sara says. “Even in the competition of a tournament, it's clear that all the writers and all the stories are different. It's useless to compare yourself to others, or get intimidated by the writer sitting in the desk next to you, or worry that another writer in the room has gotten up to get more paper for the third time. We each have a story, and they won't sound the same, and that's awesome.”
A Chance to Encourage Others
For Sara, the best part of coaching Power of the Pen is encouraging writers, just as she herself was once encouraged by the team advisors, Kim Williams and Libby Grubb, at Gahanna Middle School South. “Middle school is the best time for a student to decide that they DO like writing after all, that they ARE good at it after all, and that they COULD pursue it after all,” Sara explains. “The ability has been there within the student the whole time, but sometimes I get to help bring it out of them and show it to them, like pulling a mirror out of a forgotten drawer.”
The students of St. Brigid of Kildare certainly respond to Sara and Shelley’s leadership. In addition to winning both the 7th and 8th grade team awards at the district tournament, the team earned a number of individual honors. Under Shelley’s leadership, Paige Harper placed 8th and Maren Reville placed 9th in the 7th grade, with Maren also earning a Best of Round award for “Puppy Dreams.” In the 8th grade, Eve Worley placed 3rd, Madeline Tinkler placed 6th, and Elizabeth McLaughlin placed 11th. Elizabeth was also honored with a Best of Round award for “Trouble With Humans.”
As for Sara, she continues to work on her craft as an author and is in the querying process of finding an agent for her novel. Reflecting on her journey as a writer, Sara says, “I know that Power of the Pen was the right spark of hope at the right time.”