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Caden Baune, a fourth-grader from the southwest Minnesota town of Lamberton, is already a three-sport athlete at age 9. But it's his skill on the printed page that's won him national recognition.

The Red Rock Central elementary student is this year's Zaner-Bloser fourth-grade grand national cursive handwriting champion.

For the record, cursive is a style of penmanship in which letters are joined in a flowing style, as opposed to block printing. Many schools still teach cursive, though not as widely as before.

After winning the central region competition, Caden advanced to the Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest.

"It really proved that if you work hard, you can improve wherever you want to," he said.

Caden was not the only Minnesota student to win the award from Zaner-Bloser, an Ohio-based company that markets curriculum for elementary schools. In the fifth-grade category, 10-year-old Zita Miller of St. Anne's Academy in White Bear Lake took the top prize.

Zita said she writes everything in cursive. But the stakes of the competition still felt high enough that she was a little nervous when it came time to put pen to paper. She said that when she learned she had won, several emotions hit at once.

"I felt very nervous, excited and happy at the same time," the fifth-grader said.

In her free time, Zita said, she turns her creativity to writing stories and mysteries in a journal she keeps.

In the lead-up to the competition, Caden said, he practiced his cursive sparingly at home and mostly in the classroom. Even then, he said, he typically prints most assignments, but signs all of his worksheets and homework in cursive.

Jodi Smith, Caden's fourth-grade teacher, said her class is taught the cursive alphabet, and each student learns to write their name in cursive.

"Part of the goal is to help the students develop a signature," Smith said

The Zaner-Bloser competition requires students to write "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" in cursive — a sentence that uses every letter in the English language and is regularly administered in handwriting and style tests. Caden said he was given two tries, then asked to choose the one he liked best as his official submission.

"When I found out that I [won], I was very happy," he said. "My mom and dad were very proud."

His mother, Brittni Baune, said Caden approaches all of his endeavors with tenacity — whether it's playing basketball, soccer or baseball, or competing at home with his twin sister, Keeley.

"If there is anything that has an award, Caden works very, very hard at it," she said.

Caden's not the only champion writer to emerge from Red Rock Elementary. Eight years ago, fourth-grader Ella Erickson captured the same award.

Now in high school, Ella said she was exposed to "great handwriting" through her great-grandmother, who used cursive to write her thank-you notes and birthday cards. Her mother encouraged her to write back.

Like Caden, Ella is also a three-sport athlete. She plays varsity volleyball, basketball and softball at Red Rock Central High. She said she loves to compete and is proud of the national honor she received in 2016. But, she said, her good handwriting also means she is usually the designated writer for classroom group projects and presentations.

"It's probably not the same as it used to be but I do still take pride in having nice handwriting," Ella said.

The Star Tribune put Caden's writing ability to the test against two reporters and an editor during a Friday visit to the newsroom.

The four contestants ranged in age from 9 to 51; each was tasked with writing four sentences. It had been so long since some of the journalists had written in cursive that at least one couldn't remember how to do the uppercase F and G.

A staff photographer who judged the competition said Caden's handwriting was easily the best.

Alex Karwowski is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.