The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association (VOWA) is very proud of our 2018-2019 VOWA High School  Photography & Essay Winners who typify both scholarship and love of the outdoors. These outstanding young people, along with all the fine students who entered our contest, are the future communicators and stewards for our precious outdoors. We present these winners with their winning essays linked to each title. Enjoy!

First Place VOWA High School Photography Competition
Maggie Sobel, Hanover High School
“The Goats”

Maggie Sobel is a senior from Hanover High School in Mechanicsville. Hiking, skiing, soccer, art and her springer spaniel are among her many interests. In the fall she will begin her college career as a pre-med student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Maggie’s beautiful mountain goat image was taken on Quandary Peak, during a family trip to Colorado. Using  a Nikon D 50 camera, Maggie  secured a nice clear image of an adult & baby mountain goat.  She tells us that she was delighted that the goats looked straight into her camera and describes the goats as “strong, magnificent animals, but also adorable because of their white fluffy fur.”

Maggie is multi-talented as she also won an Honorable Mention in the writing division of our contest…to see a photo of Maggie and read her essay  scroll down the page to the writing winners.

First Place VOWA High School Excellence in Writing
Joseph Owings, Home Schooled
“Canoeing Hollywood” 

Joseph Owings hails from Madison, Virginia, where he is home schooled and in the 10th grade. The middle child in a family of five children, Joseph enjoys hunting, running, and anything outdoors!  He also participates in track & field and cross country. Joseph is a return winner to our VOWA High School writing competition. We at VOWA think Joseph has a bright future as a writer!

“Canoeing Hollywood” is a fast-paced, beautifully-written essay with crisp words that convey the excitement of a father-son canoeing adventure down the James River that included a wrong turn into the powerful Hollywood rapids! We are so glad you are both safe! Outstanding writing Joseph, we hope you continue your love of the outdoors and writing about your adventures. Please continue to enter our contests!

Second Place VOWA High School Excellence in Writing
Marcianna Castillo, Norview High School
“The Ski Ninja”

Marcianna Castillo is a 12th grader in Norview High School’s specialty program, the Leadership Center for the Sciences and Engineering in Norfolk, Virginia. She enjoys being captain of Norview’s field hockey and tennis teams  as well as helping teach classes at her martial arts school. Marcianna is very active at Norview as Vice President of the National Honor Society, Treasurer of the Spanish Honor Society and Advisory Council, a Senior Class Officer on the Student Council and a member of the Scholastic Bowl team. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family, especially during family ski trips. After high school, she plans to major in neuroscience and minor in business at Virginia Tech.

VOWA is very pleased to have Marcianna as a return competitor and winner in our High School Writing Contest.  In “The Ski Ninja” Marcianna recounts a skiing adventure with her family on what began as a peaceful, gorgeous day on a beautiful mountain top but quickly became quite scary.  A major lesson, long to be remembered,  was bestowed on the family by a “ski ninja.”

Terrific writing …and so glad your dad was not hurt more seriously. We congratulate you on your upcoming graduation Marcianna, wish you a very successful college career and hope we will see you next year in our Collegiate Competition!

Third Place VOWA High School Excellence in Writing
Rachel Anthony, Point Option High School
“Still by the River”

Rachel Anthony is a 16-year-old junior from Point Option High School in Newport News. She is also a returning winner to our contest, having placed first in the 2017-18 competition.  Learning all she can and striving to do well in her studies is very important to Rachel. Although shy, Rachel is successfully working on becoming more comfortable speaking before groups and has read her work beautifully at the VOWA Annual Meeting both this year and last.  She enjoys playing soccer, is learning to play the guitar, and loves to express her creativity through writing, drawing, and music.

As someone who likes science, Rachel is considering becoming a meteorologist in the future but is also thinking about other career paths such as creating her own non-traditional school.  She plans to launch her future by joining the U.S. Air Force.

“Still By the River” is a poignant piece, beautifully written.  Rachel writes  about the peace and beauty she finds sitting by the James River as she reflects on the transition, often painful, of making powerful bonds and connections with people and then needing to move on as we proceed through life.

Rachel was accompanied to VOWA’s Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon by two of her teachers from Point Option High School. “The Point Option School program offers a unique opportunity for students to experience teaching and learning in a non-traditional way.” Quite exciting and we were honored to have these very special teachers attend our Annual Meeting!

VOWA Honorable Mentions High School Excellence in Writing
Emma Anderson, Colonial Heights High School
“No Land in Sight”

Emma Anderson, a 16-year-old junior at Colonial Heights High School, lives with her dad, younger sister, and two cats.  Between school and travel volleyball practice, she does not have a lot of time to enjoy simple hobbies, but when she does, she enjoys being outside, listening to music, and cooking.  She has always loved to write and to transcribe her thoughts onto paper.  In addition, she loves to read and be exposed to other peoples’ views and opinions.

In her lovely essay, “No Land in Sight” Emma traces her love affair with nature and water to a two-day school camping adventure on a magnificent, little touched island in the Chesapeake, Fox Island. Beautiful writing Emma, and what an experience for you and your classmates! We hope your passion for nature and water will be lifelong. We look forward to hearing more from you in future contests…high school and then collegiate competitions.

Nathan Bradford, Home School
“The Lure of Fishing”

Nathan Bradford is a home schooled 16-year-old junior from Belle Haven on the Eastern Shore. He loves fishing from his yellow kayak and recently reached his goal of catching 3,000 fish in a year: his 2018 total being 3,013 fish.  Besides fishing, he enjoys being with friends at his home school co-op and youth group.

In the “Lure of Fishing” Nathan uses beautiful prose to tell the reader why he loves to fish.   Recounting a special day of catch & release fishing in his yellow kayak, he tells us that “as I reflect on fishing, I realize it is much more than the thrill of catching.  It is the entire outdoor experience that has left a lasting mark on my life that will be with me forever.” So good to see a young man deeply inspired by fishing and the outdoor world! Keep fishing and writing Nathan, we look forward to reading more of your work in future competitions.

Maggie Sobel, Hanover High School
“Hiking Quandary Peak”

Maggie Sobel, our 2018-19 High School Photography Winner (see top of this page) is also a fine writer. Maggie wins a well-deserved Honorable Mention for her clearly-articulated story about she and her family hiking “one of the tallest mountains in Colorado, a fourteen-thousand-foot-high beast”! “Hiking Quandary Peak” describes an exhilarating, strenuous, much enjoyed family adventure. It was on this hike that Maggie captured her prize winning photo of Mountain Goats. We hope you climb many more mountains Maggie, and next year please enter our collegiate competitions!

Awards Ceremony & Acknowledgments

Prizes were presented to the winners during our 2019, VOWA Annual Meeting held March 26, 2019 at the DoubleTree Hotel, Charlottesville, Va. We thank Dominion Energy for a grant that played a big part in enabling VOWA to offer a wonderful celebratory and informative Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon to our members and award winners from our Collegiate, High School, and Excellence-in-Craft Contests.
Judges for this year’s competition were VOWA members Terry Lewis, Amanda Creasey, and Matt Schwartz.  We thank them most sincerely for their time, patience, and expertise in judging our contest. Thank you also to our Executive Director Matt Schwartz for chairing our 2018-19 High School Competitions.

Congratulations to all who entered. You are all winners to us! Keep enjoying, writing, and caring about the outdoors.