WOODLAND, Maine — If the pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword, then Ricky Schmitt Jr. is destined to rule the world.
The Woodland Consolidated School seventh-grader was just named the grade seven Grand National Handwriting Champion in the Zaner-Bloser annual competition.
Simply put, in this day of texting, Bluetooth and Skype-based communication, 13-year-old Schmitt has the best and most legible cursive writing out of all grade seven students in the country.
Zaner-Bloser, a wholly owned subsidiary of Highlights for Children, is a publisher of research-based reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary and handwriting programs, and annually awards one Grand National Handwriting Championship each in grades one through eight.
“I am very proud of Richard,” said Susie Schloeman, Woodland Consolidated School’s principal. “We believe that handwriting is an invaluable skill that is critical to developing literacy and leads to academic and career success.”
Before winning the Grand National Championship, Schmitt won the state championship and then was named one of 16 national winners.
In addition, the school’s Mackenzie Blackstone took top state handwriting honors for grade one students in Maine.
More than 220,000 students nationwide participated in the annual contest. Entries are judged on legibility, size, spacing and slant.
“We are pretty proud of these students,” Schloeman said.
Schmitt, who enjoys video games when not studying, is an honors student and school math league champion.
“For me it all goes back to second grade when we began learning cursive writing,” Schmitt said Friday afternoon from the school’s library. “We worked in third grade on handwriting but did not really use it until sixth grade, and look where I am now.”
Where he is now is $1,250 richer, thanks to the $250 cash prize for the national title and a $1,000 prize for taking the top grand national spot.
Schmitt’s grade seven teacher, David Sterris, was awarded a Zaner-Bloser gift certificate for school supplies and an all-expenses-paid trip to the International Reading Association annual convention in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.
Sterris passed the trip on to Cheryl Hallowell, the Woodland grade two teacher who gave Schmitt his champion penmanship start.
Schmitt was not awarded a trip, which was fine with him.
“I would not have gone anyway,” he said. “I have a perfect attendance record so far and don’t want to lose that.”
To enter the contest, Schmitt submitted a sample of his writing and a short explanation of why it’s important to be able to write legibly.
“Good handwriting is important for people without computers or cell phones,” Schmitt said.
“I’ve been a teacher for 37 years and my job is to reinforce what Ricky has already learned,” Sterris said. “When you go out into the job market you need to use the English language properly, be able to spell and write.”
Having a state and grand national winner in her school speaks volumes for its faculty, Schloeman said, who noted the school has had three state winners in past years.
“I am just ecstatic for [Schmitt] and really commend our teachers and our staff,” she said. “If they did not take the time to teach and help them enter these competitions we would not have the grand national champion sitting here now in our library.”
While stressing the importance of good penmanship, Sterris said it is not to the exclusion of technology.
Students at the Woodland school are equipped with iBook computers and use them extensively in their classes.
“I require a lot of writing in all subjects,” Sterris said. “Most students show me rough drafts that are handwritten and then type it out on the iBooks.”
Schmitt, who will be honored at a school assembly in the next week, is as yet undecided on his career path, but does have plans for that prize money.
“I want to go to college and don’t have any money for that yet,” he said. “The $1,000 will give that a boost.”
As for the remaining $250, he said he plans on “doing something fun.”
Schmitt hopes his victory can inspire other students.
“There are some kids who can’t read cursive writing,” he said. “I think that’s pretty sad.”