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Catholic school student wins national handwriting contest

More than a few doctors, notorious for their illegible scribble, would do well to take Michael Daniel Fairley’s advice about good handwriting.

“First, you think of something and write it down — slowly,” explained the 7-year-old, who is a first grader at Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg.

“You don’t want to rush it,” he advised. “Taking your time is the most important thing.”

Michael is a young expert when it comes to impeccable penmanship. He has been named the national handwriting champion among first graders by Zaner-Bloser, an Ohio-based publisher of the handwriting textbooks used at Mother Seton School.

Competing against more than 110,000 children, Michael’s clear, perfectly spaced manuscript was judged to be the best in the nation among those in his age group.

First and second graders compete in the manuscript category. Second graders also can compete in the cursive category, which has a division for grades 2-4 and one for grades 5-8.

It’s no wonder Michael came out on top in his age group. He’s an old pro in the handwriting business.

“I started when I was 2,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly writing. I liked to draw little pictures. It was a lot of fun.”

He credits his parents, Richard and Catharine Fairley, along with teachers Mary Jo Burkell and Donna Gebhart, for showing him the finer points of perfect printing. His father is the headmaster at a Catholic high school in Frederick.

“They told me to practice,” Michael said. “I’m proud that I can do it.”

For the contest, Michael copied a required sentence and then wrote one of his own for the judges’ consideration. His personal sentence was a tribute to his 6-year-old brother, Ian.

“My little brother is my favorite person in the whole world,” the sentence read.

Richard Northup, vice president for the marketing division of Zaner-Bloser, said good handwriting is essential is today’s business world. A company press release noted that illegible handwriting costs American business $200 million annually, with 90 percent of U.S. business executives complaining about the poor handwriting of their employees.

Some 38 million illegibly addressed letters cost the U.S. postal service $4 million annually and hundreds of thousands of tax returns are delayed each year because figures, notes and signatures are illegible, according to the press release.

“To believe computers have eliminated the need for clear handwriting in business and daily life is a mistake,” Northup said. “Legible handwriting can ensure that you deliver your message clearly and project a positive image.”

Michael was awarded a $500 savings bond, a plaque and a pen set for his winning writing. His classmates at Mother Seton will each receive a National Handwriting Contest T-shirt. Michael also has been honored by his school and featured on a local television station.

His next big task is to learn cursive writing, a challenge he is taking in stride.

“In preschool, I started to learn a little cursive,” Michael said. “It’s a little harder, but you just have to practice.”

Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org

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