Thursday, November 21, 2013


    It’s no secret that winning writing contests are a great way to ramp up your writing credentials.

So if you have a tendency towards outdoor writing, or a notion of one day participating in the profession, this is a contest for you.  For me, it has provided a professional start in the industry, numerous valuable contacts, and endless other opportunities for growth and education.

        For 21 years, the Virginia Outdoor Writer’sAssociation of Virginia (VOWA) has sponsored the Annual High School WritingCompetition.  The object of the competition is to reward high school students for excellence in communicating their experiences in the outdoors.  Submitted essays should convey a memorable experience.  Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating, wildlife watching, or other general outdoors topics are all acceptable subject matters.  Athletic events and competitions are not eligible themes.  Public-, private-, and home-schooled students are all eligible to participate.

        Bass Pro Shops has once again agreed to co-sponsor this contest, and will provide $150, $100, and $50 Bass Pro Shops gift cards for the first, second, and third place winners.  Also to be awarded are sponsor packages from other outdoor retailers and supporting members of VOWA.  Winners will be contacted by Mr. Terry Lewis via email, and invited to the annual membership conference in Charlottesville, VA on February 22, 2014, where students will read their winning entries.  (For more information on how to submit, visit

        While the membership meeting may at first seem like an unfit gathering for a high school student, I encourage any attendant with a true interest in outdoor writing to listen intently and participate with an open mind and confident air.  The men and women that comprise this association are truly passionate people, not “in it for the money, by any means,” as many of them will joke.  The high school writing contest is the product of this passion and a genuine interest in the next generation for the continuation of our unique and threatened niche in the communications industry.

        It was at this annual meeting in 2012 that I first found myself lost and without direction.  That is, until Terry Lewis found me.  I shook hands with some well-known names, and got to socializing.  Several informative seminars later, and after a few hearty meals, my wallet was bulging with business cards. 

        On one was printed the name David Coffman, Editor of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ e-newsletter, The Outdoor Report, and a previously unknown Fluvanna neighbor.  It was he who sponsored my invitation to the 2013 Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers AssociationVirginia Outdoor Writers Association joint conference, and who later began re-running the columns I wrote for the local paper.  The same relationship gave me the opportunity to participate in the Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament on the Rose River as a photographer and media member

        Coffman introduced me to Mark Taylor, then president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, who soon opened a membership category for high school students and sponsored my induction.

        Another name in my wallet was Beau Beasley’s.  Beau has been the source of some valuable bits of information over the past two years, and inspired my volunteer participation in the annual Virginia Fly Fishing Festival in Waynesboro of which he is the Director. 

        Within a week of the conference I sold my first magazine feature to Chris McCotter, editor of Woods & Waters Magazine; and I sold two more by June.

        After my last feature, I was contacted by the local paper, the Rural Virginian, to see if I was interested in becoming an outdoor columnistTerry Beigie, the editor, was thenceforth a constructive, forgiving, and altogether positive blessing in the beginning stages of a writing career that is riddled with rejection and failure.   She is still a very willing wealth of knowledge on journalism and photography; though it is with the submission of this column that I make my last to her, as she moves on to fulfill other opportunities.

        I don’t normally “wax nostalgia,” as McCotter would say, and on a normal day I would claim humility, but in reflection, I believe strongly in this contest and the group that sponsors it.  I firmly believe that you will get out of chances what you put into them; and this chance believes in you.  So if you are a high school student and have any interest in outdoor writing, I urge you to take up this opportunity.  Shake a few hands, share a few stories.  Submit an essay, and you might even win something!  Heck, even if you don’t win, go anyway.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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