Sports Fiction & Essay Contest 2014
Congratulations to the winners of our 2014 Sports Fiction & Essay Contest!
First Prize $1,000 Fiction
Zach Mankofsky, Death of a Cubs Fan
First Prize $1,000 Nonfiction
Susan Ryan, Proper Equipment
Second Prize $250 Fiction
Terrance Manning Jr., Saturday-Night Special
Second Prize $250 Nonfiction
Chris Wiewiora, The Gift of Nothing
Honorable Mention $100
- Jon Fain, Sneaky Fast, Fiction
- Bob Johnson, The Knee, Fiction
- Michael Murphey, The Fountain of Youth, Fiction
- Jason Norman, Best, Fiction
- Eve Bradshaw, Cup Stories, Nonfiction
- Nicole Matos, The Wheelers: A Roller Derby Meditation, Nonfiction
- Judy Nedry, Blood Sport, Nonfiction
- Ruth A. Rouff, The Phillies, Dick Allen, and Me, Nonfiction
- A.A. Singh, Team Sports, Nonfiction
- Miranda Ward, The Purest Form of Play, Nonfiction
Thanks to everyone who entered our 2014 Sports Fiction & Essay Contest. We received 375 entries. We feel gratitude in knowing that you trust us to judge your essays, memoirs, and short stories fairly and with skill. For the second year in a row, our judges, Ellen LaFleche and Jendi Reiter, added a bonus second prize in each genre because our top four entries were each superb in their own way. See our press release announcing the winners.
Our honorees made us feel the pain, exhilaration, and self-questioning that arise when the body is pushed beyond its expected limits. We saw again what the athlete and the artist have in common: the ten thousand hours of persistence and sacrifice for a goal that outsiders might dismiss as mere entertainment, not "real work". Thus prompted to wonder what makes any activity worthwhile, these sports writers found meaning in the daily accretion of greater skill and courage, one golf ball or backstroke or page of prose at a time.
Assistant Judge Ellen LaFleche did the first-round screening and Winning Writers Editor Jendi Reiter read the top 80, picking a shortlist of about 35 for us to discuss together. Once again, we received many strong and memorable entries, particularly in nonfiction.
Too many stories this year fell back on old-fashioned stock characters and sentimental, pat endings. The essays had, on average, more nuance and open-endedness, perhaps because real life is too messy to fit into a Hollywood story arc. Although we encourage innovations in essay structure, such as presenting events out of chronological order, the logic behind it has to be evident.
It is interesting how certain themes seem to emerge every year. Some of this year's strongest themes included baseball as Americana, fishing as a metaphor, adolescent angst, and the vicissitudes of aging. We found the writings on aging to be especially compelling, with musings on the interconnections of sports, competition, and the body issues of older people.
While some of the writing about adolescence was also compelling, we were disappointed in the way that adolescent sexuality was frequently depicted. We wanted entries that explored the emerging sexuality of adolescents as an integral part of a sports story, rather than entries that included an adolescent sexual situation as an isolated incident with no connection to the rest of the piece. We appreciate good writing about sexuality, but were chagrined at entries that treated sexuality in a crass, sexist, or disembodied way.
The standout works in both genres featured a vivid re-creation of the body sensations and community culture of a sport; characters that gave the tale a strong emotional center; and reflections on a larger personal or social issue.
Ruth Rouff's essay traced the growth of her awareness of racism as a young Phillies fan; A.A. Singh's looked at the role of hockey in forming his multifaceted identity as a Trinidadian, Canadian, and American immigrant. Jon Fain and Michael Murphey told poignant stories of ballplayers who'd outlived their dreams, while Bob Johnson's chilling tale dissected the home life of an amateur sportsman who'd do anything to resist the advances of age. Nicole Matos brought us up close to the smells, sounds, and strategies of a women's roller derby match, and the way that this demanding sport transforms one's body and spirit. Miranda Ward's meditative essay on swimming explored the nature of excellence in sports and in writing. Short and sweet, Jason Norman's prose-poem about the delirium of lovers and sports fans made us smile, as did Eve Bradshaw's account of buying a certain intimate piece of equipment for her son. Finally, Judy Nedry nearly drowned in cow manure beside the Little Neema River to answer the question we posed in the original Sports Contest advice guide: Yes, fishing is a sport—Blood Sport!
Zach Mankofsky's first-prize story "Death of a Cubs Fan" probed the limits of loyalty and the difficulty of knowing those closest to us. Flavored with tragicomic, self-mocking Jewish humor, the well-paced tale builds toward revealing the reason for the narrator's estrangement from his late father. The answer makes sense and yet only scratches the surface of their complex relationship.
Susan Ryan's first-prize essay "Proper Equipment" is a serious yet upbeat memoir of overcoming sexism on and off the links. As a medical equipment sales representative, the author did much of her networking on golf courses whose rules seemed to belong to a different century. In her opening lines, she suggests that golfing is a sport for optimists; the same could be said of being a businesswoman in a man's world.
Both second-prize entries grippingly portrayed young men starving themselves in pursuit of an athletic ideal, or perhaps obsession is the better word. In Terrance Manning Jr.'s bleak and beautiful story "Saturday-Night Special", high school wrestlers in a depressed blue-collar community risk their lives for one chance to feel like a hero. Chris Wiewiora's disquieting essay "The Gift of Nothing" depicts a runner's merciless campaign against the fat kid he once was.
New Contest Planned
The Sports Fiction & Essay Contest is retiring its number this year. We are looking forward to sponsoring a new contest with a broader thematic appeal and no genre restrictions. The North Street Book Prize for self-published books will accept entries between January 15-June 30, 2015. Books may be entered in the categories of Mainstream/Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction, and Creative Nonfiction. The grand prize winner in each genre receives $1,500 plus a marketing support package. Find out more.
Jendi Reiter is vice president of Winning Writers, editor of The Best Free Literary Contests, and oversees the Winning Writers literary contests. She is the author of the novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press, 2016), the poetry collections Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2015) and A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003), and the award-winning poetry chapbooks Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) and Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press, 2010). In 2010 she received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists' Grant for Poetry. Awards include the 2016 New Letters Prize for Fiction, the 2016 Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction, the 2015 Wag's Revue Poetry Prize, the 2013 Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize, the 2012 Betsy Colquitt Award for Poetry from Descant magazine, the 2011 James Knudsen Editor's Prize in Fiction from Bayou Magazine, the 2011 OSA Enizagam Award for Fiction, the 2010 Anderbo Poetry Prize, and second prize in the 2010 Iowa Review Awards for Fiction. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The New Criterion, Mudfish, Passages North, Cutthroat, Best American Poetry 1990, and many other publications.
Ellen LaFleche is a judge of our North Street Book Prize. She has worked as a journalist and women's health educator in Western Massachusetts. Her manuscript, Workers' Rites, won the Philbrick Poetry Award from the Providence Athenaeum and was published as a chapbook in 2011. Another chapbook, Ovarian, was published in 2011 by the Dallas Poets Community Press, and a third chapbook, Beatrice, about a semi-cloistered nun, was published in 2012 by Tiger's Eye Press. Her poems have been published in Spoon River Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, New Millennium Writings, The Ledge, Alligator Juniper, Many Mountains Moving, Harpur Palate, Southeast Review, and Naugatuck River Review, among many others. Prose credits include her 2014 Daily Hampshire Gazette article "Taken too soon, at 65: My husband John Clobridge's final days with ALS" and the essay "Happily Ever After" about dealing with diabetes through fairy tale poetry, which appeared in Wordgathering, the online journal of disability poetics. She also reviews books for Wordgathering. She has won the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize (shared with Jim Glenn Thatcher), the DASH Poetry Journal Prize, the Poets on Parnassus Prize for poetry about the medical experience, second prize in The Ledge Poetry Awards, and the Editor's Choice Award for Poetry from Writecorner Press.