Austin Wierschke, left, of Rhinelander, Wis., and Kent Augustine, of Jamaica,… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)
When Brianna Hendrickson exceeded her monthly limit of 750 texts, her parents upped the maximum to 1,000. When she went over that, they threatened to throw her cellphone out the window.
But when Hendrickson won $50,000 in 2010 for being the nation’s best texter, they changed their tune.
“They were like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to compete again?’” the Brooklyn teenager said Wednesday as she watched competitors vie for the crown in the LG U.S. National Texting Championship. But at the ripe old age of 15, Hendrickson, who placed second in the 2011 contest, says she has retired from competition, leaving behind the touring, the interviews and sore thumbs.
Instead, she was sitting in the audience in Times Square, watching nervously as 10 competitors squared off in the 6th annual contest. “I’m shaking,” Hendrickson said as the contest got under way and she remembered her own jittery moments texting against the clock on stage.
Competitors included last year’s winner, Austin Wierschke, 17, of Rhineland, Wis., who defeated Hendrickson in the final round in 2011 and was fighting to keep his crown. The competitors were whittled down from about 100,000 who competed in qualifying rounds across the country in the past year.
As organizers set up the stage, placing LG phones on plastic stands at each texter’s station, the Jackson 5’s “ABC” blasted through speakers and Carl Brown of LG mobile phones explained the contest. Brown, LG’s director of trade and marketing, said the South Korean company came up with the idea of a texting championship when it was looking to expand its market in the United States a few years ago.
“Our target demographic was young texters,” Brown said. But he made clear this contest is no place for reckless youths. “This competition is built on speed and accuracy,” said Brown, admitting that he might win for accuracy but never for speed.
One by one, the competitors took their places behind their assigned texting stations: seven females and three males, not including Wierschke, who as the defending champion did not have to take part in the initial rounds.
One of those hoping to unseat him was 19-year-old Lexi Johnson of Yorba Linda, Calif., who appeared visibly tense as the group was put through two practice rounds that did not count toward the competition.
Texters to your marks
“One, two, three, text!” a master of ceremonies shouted as large screens showed a mind-numbingly convoluted phrase, sprinkled with numbers, capital letters, lower-case letters and symbols. The goal was to text it, precisely, in 60 seconds or less.
Johnson’s shoulders were hunched and her brow furrowed as she focused on the tiny keyboard and screen in her hands. When time was called after the first warm-up run, she was still texting.
But Johnson, who practiced by texting receipts, soared into contention once the real competition got under way. In Round 1, she finished texting the phrase before anyone else, then placed her device confidently on her stand.
In the audience, Hendrickson was rooting for her fellow New Yorker, Kent Augustine, 15, while dishing out texting tips and reminiscing about her time on the texter’s throne. “I used to Google myself all the time,” said Hendrickson, who went on to compete in the 2010 world texting championship. She placed sixth.
Hendrickson offered some rules that wise texters follow: Never break up via text – “It’s so disrespectful,” she said. Move out of other people’s way if you can’t walk and text simultaneously. And never text while driving.
Asked the secret to quick and accurate texting, Hendrickson said she swears by a rolling motion, rather than a poking technique. She demonstrated the move on her mobile phone, her thumbs rocking easily over the letters as competitors fell by the wayside on stage.
“I accidentally added a letter and I’m freaking out right now. Adding a letter can change everything,” Rebecca Lessie of Reading, Pa., said when asked how she felt after a round that required the contestants – now down to eight – text a phrase written backward. “I feel like I’m having a heart attack.”
Lessie, who estimated she sends “like, 1,000” texts daily, didn’t make it to the next round.
Johnson and Augustine were still in the running. “Check your accuracy!” Hendrickson hollered at Augustine as he tapped away.
Narrowing the texting field
Then, the field was down to four: Augustine, Johnson, Rachel Armstrong, 18, of Park Ridge, Ill., and Wierschke.
It was time for the blind texting portion of the competition. They were told to type “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are; up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky” while wearing blindfolds.