MBHS Student Wins NYT Writing Contest

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

June 5, 2023

A Morro Bay High School student has been named one of the winners of a New York Times student writing contest, the school announced last week.

Called the “Eighth Annual Student Review Contest,” and sponsored by the New York Times newspaper, the contest was conducted in the Fall of 2022. 

“The contest,” reads a news release from MBHS, “invites students to play critic by writing an original critique about their reaction to books, movies, restaurants, video games, music or fashion. Orion Elfant Rea wrote a critique titled, ‘War at Its Most Pointless: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ and in less than 450 words he captured the attention of the NYT review board judges securing a spot as one of the 10 top finalists.”

Rea’s teachers were impressed. His English teacher, Kate Kostecka, said, “Orion is an incredible student and talented writer. He brings such insight and nuance to his written assignments, class discussions, and casual conversations. I am beyond thrilled — and not at all surprised — he has been recognized by the New York Times!”

His school newspaper advisor too was not surprised by the achievement. 

Ryan Mammarella, MBHS journalism teacher, said, “Orion is a gifted writer. When he joined journalism his freshman year, he already possessed all the skills necessary to craft insightful, engaging, and exciting critiques of popular culture including movies, television shows, and music. As an advisor, my role was simply to provide him a platform and then sit back and watch the magic happen. I’m thrilled that he is being recognized at a national level.”

Oddly enough for a newspaper with such a grand tradition for reporting “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” it never printed contest results or at least didn’t notify Rea, who said he hadn’t heard the contest results for three months after it was apparently quietly announced online.

Rea said a friend discovered the good news during a Google search.

 “I was surprised because I wasn’t contacted personally and that was the first time I had heard about the win,” said Rea, who is 15 and finishing his sophomore year.

Asked how it felt to be recognized by the Times, Rea said, “It feels amazing and I’m proud of what I’ve done. It’s just an honor. I want to continue to write and analyze because studying humans through the media is an area I’m very compelled by.”

According to a news release from the Times, “We received nearly 4,000 submissions from teenagers around the world, and have crowned dozens of finalists.”

Entries were about a variety of things — video games, movies, books, music, restaurants, theater and more.

The start of Rea’s critique of the film, All Quiet on the Western Front,” begins a bit like a face slap: “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a film that aims to immerse the viewer in war itself. It is a battle just to keep watching, to continue breathing as each horrible moment unfolds.

“The soundtrack from Volker Bertelmann, thumping yet somber, mirrors war’s every mood, scream and sneeze. 

“The cinematography, production design, and makeup paint a portrait lined with dull hues and wretched substances: blood, pus, excrement, snot… and then, there is the dirt.”

If Estero Bay News readers would like to check out Rea’s article and the other winners, see: www.nytimes.com/2023/02/15/learning/the-winners-of-our-eighth-annual-student-review-contest.html.

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