Winners of the WRASFF student humor writing contest announced

Winners of the Will Read and Sing For Food Humor Writing Contest were announced at the May 12 WRASFF show benefiting Next Act, Inc. The winners in the Middle School category were: THIRD PLACE: Mackenzie Belk, Waffles (JMS) and Ellery Wurster, A Blown Gasket (Holy Trinity); SECOND PLACE: Ava Harmon, A Mozart-Loving Tortoise (JMS); FIRST PLACE: Caroline McNance, Living the Life of a Pop Star (JMS). The winners in the High School category were: THIRD PLACE: Mackenzie Walling, The B-Word (JHS) and Conner Persohn, Meat Head (FPHS); SECOND PLACE: Willy Krosnyak, Wanted For Illegal (Candy) Smuggling (JHS); FIRST PLACE: Drake Siegel, This Is Not Candy!? (JHS). McNance and Siegel read their stories to the WRASFF audience at the Astra Theater. In honor of McNance and Siegel, WRASFF donated $100 to Next Act, the money coming from WRASFF’s dwindling Operational Fund. The WRASFF show, through the generosity of their May 12 audience, raised $2,700 for Next Act.

Why I love LA–well I might not love LA, but I do consider LA a friend with benefits

la graduateLatest Herald column by Scott Saalman.


I went to Los Angeles to find my daughter. She wasn’t abducted. She wasn’t a runaway. Nothing like that.

Let me explain.

Though there is seldom a day that Delaney and I don’t coexist under the same roof, I seldom see her. She stays in her bedroom, for which the secret password is … well … a secret. If music plays from her side of the closed door, that means she’s home, safe — incommunicado, but contented. I live for her muffled music.

Delaney is just shy of 17, and while I’d like to say she has grown up before my very eyes, in reality she has grown up behind the very bedroom door between us. One day, she stepped out of her room wearing braces. How did that happen? Do orthodontists make house calls? Another day, she came out standing taller than me (albeit in high heels … but still). Then, she came out without braces, her teeth perfectly straight. Huh? Last month, she exited her room wearing a prom dress, the throwback threads resembling something her hero Jackie O might’ve worn. Delaney has become a beautiful young lady. Delaney O.

My daughter chooses not to hang out with her old man. She’s a teen. I get it. But I don’t like it. Worried we might never do anything together again before she’s old enough to leave the nest, I bribed her with a trip. “Anywhere in the world you want to go,” I said. Months passed. No answer. Then a text: LA.

She would only go to LA, though, if her friend, Britt, could join us. I agreed. After all, both girls were only 16 and neither possessed a driver’s license. A dependency on dad was inevitable. They would be my hostages.

I was texted an extensive itinerary. I willingly became their chauffeur, tour guide and bodyguard. OK, so I was the hostage.

Now by virtue of reading this, you are the hostage. Let the family vacation slide show begin.

• Breakfast at the iconic Chateau Marmont Hotel in West Hollywood. Fitzgerald wrote here. Jim Morrison stayed here. Lana Del Ray recently made a music video here. Belushi overdosed here. Scott Saalman paid $130 for breakfast here. Excuse me, waiter, is that syrup on my pancake? — or molten gold? Toto, we’re not in Denny’s anymore. Still, we left on a rich note. For the girls, I asked the front-desk clerk if we could tour the grounds. He put his forefinger to his lips as if to shush us and then secretly presented a brass key for the inner jungle-like sanctum of the posh property’s cottages, bungalows and swimming pool. Suddenly, I was the king of dads!

Murder and mayhem at the morbid Museum of Death on Hollywood Boulevard. Apparently, my traveling companions are into serial killers: Manson, Ramirez, Dahmer. The John Wayne Gacy room contained his actual “Pogo the Clown” shoes, self-portraits and unsettling details of the 33 murders that led to his execution. But nothing seemed more ghastly (and timely) than a questionnaire Gacy filled out in prison. When asked to list his heroes, one of his answers: Donald Trump. I kid you not.

• We visited Westwood Village Memorial Park and found burial plots for dozens of famous people, including Roy Orbison, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin, Don Knotts, Truman Capote and Natalie Wood. Marilyn Monroe’s crypt was marked by the lipstick kisses of past visitors. The most memorable headstone belonged to Rodney Dangerfield, with the words, “There Goes the Neighborhood.”

• While the girls indulged in surprise facials at our hotel spa (the king of dads strikes again), I treated myself to a deep body massage. An LA freeway left me knotted. My Asian masseuse, Kim, narrated with a whispery chant over and over: “Muscle knots don’t like Kim. Knots hide from Kim. But Kim find knots!” Eventually, I felt her feet up and down my backside. Many women have walked all over me, but Kim was the first to literally do so.

We playfully posed with wax figures at Madame Tussauds.

• On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a hip-hop artist successfully hawked a $10 CD to me after telling me he was going to be on “Kimmy Jimmel Live” next week. He was already gone before it dawned on me that he said “Kimmy Jimmel” not “Jimmy Kimmel.” P.T. Barnum was right.

• We saw the iconic Hollywood Sign.

• We heard the pounding of Pacific surf from atop Palace Verdes’ breathtaking coastal cliffs.

• We were bedazzled by the Friday night lights of LA way below us from our high perch at the Griffith Observatory.
We saw a Santa Monica sunset.

• A slime ball at Venice Beach invited my jailbait daughter to his “beach house,” making me imagine a future room dedicated to me at the Museum of Death.

• In Long Beach, Delaney hugged me as Britt took our picture by the Queen Mary, the first time I could recall her arms being around me since she was a toddler. For this alone, I will always love LA.

Once home, Delaney disappeared into her bedroom, but that did not rob me of my newfound contentedness. I smiled when I heard the sweet birdsong of Joni Mitchell play behind the bedroom door: “California I’m coming home.”

I had done what I had set out to do: I found my daughter in LA, before it was too late.


Will Read and Sing For Food’s next public benefit show is Saturday, June 4, at Jasper Engines and Transmissions’ Power Drive Facility. 7 p.m. Cash bar. Special musical guest: Channing and Quinn. Also with Saalman, Stan Levco, Abbie Rumbach, Kyle Lueken, The Gatwoods and The Bolins.

Will Read and Sing For Food's photo.

Young humorists in WRASFF contest write funniest things, winners announced Thursday night

column writing isn't prettyLatest Herald Column By SCOTT SAALMAN

I recently read 142 student essays — and I’m not even a teacher!

No, no, it wasn’t because I was sentenced to some community service project due to a DUI conviction. I actually chose to read them — well, maybe I didn’t expect that there would be that many essays to read, but I did voluntarily open myself up for the possibility when I sponsored a humor writing contest for middle-school- and high-school-aged writers.

One hundred and forty-two humor essays at 500 words or less, with the majority being closer to the maximum word count. Many arrived in my inbox on May 1, the contest’s deadline, with one showing up mere minutes before midnight.

There were a lot of good submissions, but the finalist list had room for only 20 stories (10 in each of the two age groups). This says a lot about our young writing talent when the “cutting room floor” is littered with good stories. It also says a lot about the caliber of English teachers in our community who not only teach, but champion, their students to write stories of substance here in the era of the text message. (OK, so some who entered the contest might have done so at gunpoint, but whatever works works.)

One reason I sponsored the contest was to see what funny things were on young people’s minds. 

Here are the finalists and their topics:

Willy Krosnyak wrote about smuggling candy into the theater, a family tradition.

Drake Siegel recalled an infamous trip to Walmart when he was way younger: “Then in a sudden swoop, there was my mom, in only what she calls a ‘mortifying moment’ staring at me with the parts of a feminine hygiene product in my hands … swirling one part like a cowboy lasso above my head and the other plastic part between my lips trying to play it like a slide whistle!”

Laurel Hubster recounted her awkward first days in high school: “The first weekend of your freshman year, you’re expected to withstand a night full of sweaty teenage males trying to get you to dance with/on them for three straight hours. What fun! Nothing says ‘welcome to high school’ (more) than being covered in other people’s sweat and saliva.”

Being inept at cooking was Brynn Sermersheim’s subject. “I ended up switching the amount of baking soda to baking powder, a rookie mistake. My mom dropped the dumplings in the pot to let them cook. After an hour, she pulled them out … They were green. The dumplings looked like what is on your tissue when you are sick.”

Mackenzie Walling wrote about being asked the dreaded question, “Do you have a boyfriend?” which included this funny observation about public displays of affection in the hallways, “I just can’t comprehend whatever kind of primal instinct they have that completely wipes their sense of reasoning and makes them need to suck the lunch out from the crevices between their significant other’s teeth.”

Courtney North wrote about a first kiss. “My face crashed with hers, I knocked her off balance, and we fell together like (a) pair of awkward teenage dominoes.”

Andrea Rillo found humor in a flu bug that wiped out her family. Jessica Mundy wrote about the horrors of Middle Child Syndrome. Abigail Hopf wrote about picking her nose during a children’s cooking class at Disney World, explaining unapologetically, “What Nature wants, Nature gets. And Nature got.”

Conner Persohn wrote about a hunting accident — after the hunt. “When he slipped, he somehow had enough strength to hurl the tub of meat up in the air. Now, the tub he carried happened to have a large amount of blood in it and once he tumbled, all of it started raining down, soaking him in deer blood.”

Caroline McCance recalled first-grade fantasies of being the new Taylor Swift. Andrew Wallace got a peanut stuck up his nose; Jake Schotanus suffered the same, only it was a crayon not a nut; Ainsley Pierce wrote about milk shooting from hers. 

Mackenzie Belk chronicled a major mess in her mom’s kitchen. Ava Harmon recalled playing a prank on the family pet sitter. Quinn Gunderson wrote about escaping his crib. “It was a magnificent chase … Dad tried to catch me when he dove under the table, but I crawled out of his range. Lucky for me, he even hit his head on the table getting up. Score!”

Celeste Eby’s baseball-playing brother was her subject. Ellery Wurster recalled a family trip. 

Grayson Russ wrote about a canine cheeseburger thief. “I heard a shout and saw my yellow lab, Baylee, running with a meaty prize between her jaws … She had a big stupid grin on her face, even though she was being chased by a crowd of girls, desperate to get back their beloved cheeseburger … Boy, did that dog like red meat!”

This Thursday night, these 20 finalists will be introduced on the Astra stage during a Will Read and Sing For Food show to benefit The Next Act, whose mission is to revive and revitalize the Astra Theatre. The first-place winners in both categories will read their stories to the audience, as part of the show. You will laugh when you hear them. I did when I read them. Come out to support our future humor writers and a great community cause.

WRASFF Student Humor Writing Contest Finalists Announced, Winners named at May 12 show

JASPER — 141 writers submitted humor essays to the 2016 Will Read and Sing for Food (WRASFF) Humor Writing contest. The contest was open to middle-school-aged and high-school-aged students in Dubois County, including home-schooled and online students. The Top 10 Finalists in the two categories are:

Middle School Writers: Peanut Picker (Andrew Wallace, JMS); Living the Life of a Popstar (Caroline McCance, JMS); Cereal (Ainsley Pierce, JMS); The Crayon Holder (Jake Schotanus, JMS); Waffles (Mackenzie Belk, JMS); A Mozart-Loving Tortoise (Ava Harmon, JMS); The Toddler Outlaw (Quinn Gunderson, JMS); A Blown Gasket (Ellery Wurster, Holy Trinity); The Great Cheeseburger Thief (Grayson Russ, JMS); Baseball Brother (Celeste Eby, Holy Trinity).

High School Writers: Oops (Courtney North, FPHS); Disaster at Disney World (Abigail Hopf, JHS); Meat Head (Conner Persohn, FPHS); Over-Cooked Cook (Brynn Sermersheim, JHS); The B Word (Mackenzie Walling, JHS); This is not Candy!? (Drake Siegel, JHS); Freshman Year Survival Guide (Laurel Hubster, JHS); Wanted for Illegal (Candy) Smuggling (Willy Krosnyak, JHS); Ba HumBUG (Andrea Rillo, JHS); Middle Child Syndrome (Jessica Mundy, FPHS).

The Finalists will be introduced on the Astra Theater’s Jim and Pat Thyen Performance Stage during the May 12 WRASFF show to benefit The Next Act Inc. The two overall winning writers, to be announced at the show, will read their stories during the show. If a first-place winner cannot be present, the second-place winner will read—and so on.

The humor essays had to be 500 words or less. Scott Saalman, founder and host for the show, and his 16-year-old daughter, Delaney, who has written three novels, judged the entrees. The judges used the following criteria: was the story memorable?; did it generate a laugh per paragraph?; did the story demonstrate personality?; was the story believable?; did the story demonstrate quality writing throughout?; will the story make a WRASFF audience laugh?

“We are excited to showcase and encourage the young writers in our community,” says Saalman, a humor columnist for The Herald. “Some, I assume, wrote these at gunpoint by good-intentioned teachers, but I know some did this on their own volition for the personal love of writing.”

“It was tough to narrow the pack down to the final 10, not to mention the final three, and then the overall winner,” he adds. “Overall, the quality of the pieces were wonderful, a testimonial not only to the kids themselves but to their awesome English teachers. Many made me laugh aloud, even the stories of the non-finalists. There was plenty of good stuff on the cutting-room floor, per se, so that says a lot about the overall quality of writing in Dubois County.”

WRASFF is a unique mix of live music and humor essays. Performers for the May 12 show include Abbie Rumbach, Jillian Becher, Scott Saalman, Ray Major, Marc Steczyk, Debbie Schuetter, Kyle Lueken and Megan and Isaac Gatwood. Jasper High School English teacher Brooke Keusch will also read a humorous essay of her own, and JHS senior Luci Hulsman will read/perform her funny essay about Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

To date, since Oct. 2011, the show has raised, through the generosity of its audiences, $62,900 for two dozen causes and charities. Admission for the May 12 show is $10 (adults) and $5 (students). The finalists of the writing contest get in free.

Saalman encourages family and friends of the finalists, as well as the general public, to come to the show and support these young writers, just as they do for our community’s athletes. (Many of these writers are athletes.) It’s also a great way to support the arts thru The Next Act’s efforts to revitalize and renovate our beloved Astra Theater.

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