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Spin layout editor earns writing award

Jeremy Oaks, right, is interviewed by BreeAnna Poshek, of the Spartan Spin after receiving an award in humor commentary for news publications from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association at Superior High School on Thursday afternoon. Oaks, the former Spartan Spin layout editor, is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. (Jed Carlson/

The Spartan Spin hit a new landmark this week. Former layout editor Jeremy Oaks earned the high school newspaper's first individual columnist award from Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

Oaks swung by the class Thursday to offer technical advice -- or so he thought. Business teacher Linnae Bosley distracted him with questions about pre-flighting and packaging until language arts teacher Andy Wolfe began to read Oaks' winning political humor column out loud. Then District Administrator Janna Stevens handed him the certificate of merit award.

"I totally did not expect this," said Oaks, a University of Wisconsin-Superior freshman. "They told me that they had a couple layout questions from last year."

The political column was one of more than 13,000 individual pieces submitted to Columbia for judging.

"I think the best part about all this is that he was layout editor, he wasn't even a writer, and he won this award," said this year's editor-in-chief, senior Andrew Kelly.

"I know, everybody knows Jeremy for his knowledge about computers and the layout and so forth, but the thing I want to say is that anybody can be a writer," Wolfe told the class before turning to Oaks. "That's what I love about the fact that you won this."

The column, published in the April 23 edition of the student paper, offers a tongue-in-cheek lesson in translating political jargon. After the word cooperation, for example, Oaks crosses out the definition "working together to solve problems" and replaces it with "Sitting down and staring at each other until someone gives in." To define across the aisle he crossed out "Seeking support from political opponents" and replaced it with "An extinct idea of working together."

The piece remains fresh, maybe because the fodder is politics.

"I think that's almost the theme of the government these days that these same sort of problems have been here for a while," Oaks said. "I wrote about them, and they're still here. It's almost like there's an unwillingness to change and that's a tone across the nation."

Oaks was a member of the Spartan Spin staff for two and a half years.

"'This isn't a class; this is a lifestyle choice,' as one of our former writers once said," he said. "It is challenging and it does push you to perform at a higher level." Being able to build constructively each edition appealed to the technology-savvy Oaks. The class also gave him a chance to air his views.

"I really like writing stuff that will make you laugh, that will make you smile," Oaks said, and the political climate offered plenty of material. He put his layout talents to good use to craft the column, complete with crossed out definitions.

"It's just something I thought was kind of fun and you all surprised me," Oaks told the class.

Wolfe said he'd like to see more students follow whatever their interests may be, whether that's politics, music, dance or another topic. This individual award could prompt other students to submit items to the annual contest and offer them hope, Kelly said.

"The award just goes to show you really don't know until you try," Wolfe said. "It's a reminder to put yourself out there, take risks."

"You never know what you're capable of," Bosley said.

The Spartan Spin has earned high marks from Columbia over the years, including top all-Columbian honors for the 2010-11 school year. One other student staff member has been recognized for individual work -- Addam Love earned a second place award from the Kettle Moraine Press Association in the 2008 Cartoon-Off competition.

The Spartan Spin staff prints six editions a year. The first edition of 2013-2014 school year, came out Oct. 22, spotlighted new high school faculty and coaches as well as the Lunch and Learn program.