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Sonora girl wins national writing contest

WASHINGTON -- Sonora schoolgirl Justine Abbott knows words can hurt. This week, she showed they can also pay.

Justine's cautionary script about text-message bullying took first place in a national contest sponsored by the wireless industry. The eighth-grader beat out hundreds of competitors nationwide, earning an all-expense-paid family trip to Washington.

On Monday night, with several members of Congress in attendance, the Wireless Foundation honored Justine as the grand prize winner in the 2008 Get Wise About Wireless Scriptwriting Contest.

"I can easily express myself through writing," Justine said Monday afternoon. "Since fourth or fifth grade, I've been writing."

Poetry, journals, letters, stories: The words, she says, flow pretty regularly regardless of the form. Impediments don't seem to stress her.

"To solve writers' block," Justine counseled Monday afternoon, "brainstorm, talk with a friend; just work it out. Sleep on; it will all come out."

So the Mother Lode Adventist Junior Academy student was ready earlier this year when her English teacher, Emily Villeda, announced the nationwide contest. The Wireless Foundation, a non-profit but politically attuned arm of the wireless industry association now known simply as CTIA, was soliciting middle-school student scripts.

Some 387 contestants from across the country eventually entered the "Get Wise About Wireless" competition, now in its third year. Each script offered a different take on what a student should do upon receiving an "inappropriate" text message.

"The kids all definitely seemed to understand the seriousness of situation," Wireless Foundation program manager Ben Burkhardt said.

Motivated by the prospect of winning a free cell phone, Justine said she spent several hours over the course of three days writing her script. Neither her father, George, a retired Navy chief petty officer who is now maintenance supervisor at Diestel Turkey Ranch, nor her mother, Nancy, a copy editor at the Sonora Union-Democrat, had a hand in the writing.

"I swear on a stack of Bibles," Nancy Abbott said Monday while sitting in the office of Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. "There was not one comma, period or word out of place."

Justine's winning script posits a boy and girl sitting in front of their school. The girl's cell phone beeps, indicating a text message awaits. With a "look of disgust ... on her face," according to the script, the girl discovers a vile but unspecified text message. Her friend, Kevin, checks the number of the message-sender.

"That's Jared, a guy on the football team!" Kevin exclaims angrily. "Why is he doing this to you? I'm going to give him a piece of my mind next time I see him!"

Instead, instructively, Kevin and his friend decide to tell a parent and the school principal. Jared, the football player, ends up apologizing.

"It was purely fictional," Justine insisted.

Justine and her parents spent Monday touring the Capitol, the U.S. Postal Museum and other tourist spots. They were also able to wrangle a coveted White House tour, in addition to the Monday night reception and dinner party that the wireless industry bills as its signature event for bringing together lawmakers, congressional staffers and industry leaders.

"She doesn't get a trophy," Burkhardt said, "but she does get a new phone."