The San Antonio Book Festival (SABF) revealed the winners of its annual Fiction Contest last week. The 10 winners were local students in grades 7-12 who wrote stories based on this year’s contest theme of “Building Bridges.”

“We gave them the prompt, ‘Tell us about a bridge, whether real or symbolic. What does it unite, and why?’” said SABF Communications Director Lilly Gonzalez. This year, festival organizers received a total of 210 submissions from students throughout Bexar County.

First place winners included Ayden Reece Thoma, 7th grader at Concordia Lutheran School, who wrote, “All in This Together;” Brian Yancelson, 10th grader at Alamo Heights High School, with his story, “The Other Side;” and Ashleigh Houff, 12th grader at William Howard Taft High School, who wrote, “An Afternoon with Red Evelyn.”

A full list of winners can be found at the end of this story.

“The submissions this year really impressed our pool of judges,” said Fiction Contest Co-chair Mark Kimberley. “We’re proud that the quality of the stories continues to reflect a bright, talented, and creative student body in Bexar County, and we’re pleased to see the contest grow with an increase in entries this year.”

The fiction contest is one of the vital ways that the SA Book Festival includes all ages in its programming, and promotes reading and writing for both children and teens.

It is sponsored by the Texas Cavaliers, a charitable organization that commits to the bettering of the lives of San Antonio area children. Since the first year of the fiction contest in 2014, the Cavaliers have donated $9,000 to provide cash prizes. First-place winners receive $250 for themselves and $500 for their schools, while second-place winners receive $150 and third-place winners get $100.

There are three contest divisions – 7th/8th grade, 9th/10th grade, and 11th/12th grade – each with a first-, second-, and third-place winner. This year there was a 3rd-place tie in the 7th/8th grade division.

Last week, each first-place winner was surprised in his or her classroom with balloons, flowers, and cookies brought in by their families, the Texas Cavaliers, and the SA Book Festival Fiction Contest Co-chairs Mark Kimberly and Tracey Lammert. The contest winners also will be recognized at a special awards program during the festival on April 8.

Yancelson, the first place winner of the 9th/10th place category, was surprised during his class time at Alamo Heights High School. He said composing his essay was a unique writing experience for him.

“I’m a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter, but that’s writing about sports, and this is totally different,” Yancelson said. “I was actually kind of afraid to enter because I’m not a big fiction writer, I’m more sports and news, so this is way different but I guess it worked.”

The essay also is relevant to today’s public discourse, he said.

“Right now there’s a lot [in the news] about politics and religion and what divides people,” Yancelson said, “… I wrote [my essay] in a way that you can kind of tell that it’s about [politics and religion], but without mentioning it.”

Yancelson and the other first-place winners will have their stories published in the Texas Cavaliers program. They also are offered a spot on the Cavaliers float in the River Parade during Fiesta and are provided meals for one year from Whataburger.

The fifth annual San Antonio Book Festival will take place on Saturday April 8, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Central Library and Southwest School of Art. The festival is free, open to the public, and will include author presentations, panel discussions, book signings, activities for children and teens, food trucks, and a marketplace. A finalized schedule of events for the festival will be available in March.

Here is the full list of the Fiction Contest winners:

7th/8th Grade Division:

1st place – Ayden Reece Thoma, “All in This Together,” Concordia Lutheran School, 7th grade

2nd place – Cindy Vilchis, “Fatal Love,” Whittier Middle School, 8th grade

3rd place (tie) – Corinthian Ewesuedo, “Winter in Summer,” Keystone School, 8th grade

3rd place (tie) – Claire Rollwitz, “The Importance of Building Bridges,” Concordia Lutheran School, 7th grade

9th/10th Grade Division:

1st place – Brian Yancelson, “The Other Side,” Alamo Heights High School, 10th grade

2nd place – Mia Mercer, “Building Bridges: A Uniting Touch,” Robert G. Cole High School, 10th grade

3rd place – Jacinta Murillo, “The Color Expert,” Marshall High School, 9th grade

11th/12th Grade Division:

1st place – Ashleigh Houff, “An Afternoon with Red Evelyn,” William Howard Taft High School, 12th grade

2nd place – Niraja Surendran, “Blue-Green Sea,” Ronald Reagan High School, 12th grade

3rd place – Daniel Bertetti, “Bridge of Ice,” Claudia Taylor Johnson High School, 11th grade

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Sarah Billman

Currently a student at Trinity University working to receive a bachelor's degree in English, Sarah is excited to be spending a semester interning for the Rivard Report.