The Associated Press Sports Editors began announcing winners in the group’s sports journalism contests Tuesday. Only some of the APSE awards had been announced by Tuesday afternoon, but The Star has already won in two categories.
The Star’s sports section made the APSE’s list of top 10 daily sports sections for newspapers under 30,000 circulation.
“It’s nice to see our hard work recognized,” said sports editor Lacie Pinyan.
Pinyan said the paper’s success was due in part to The Star’s proximity to some of the biggest sports stories of the year. The paper covers sports at the University of Alabama and Auburn University, as well as Jacksonville State’s growing football program and NASCAR races at Talladega Superspeedway.
She said credit should also go to former Star sports editor Bran Strickland. Strickland is known around the newsroom as a master of the eye-grabbing headline and a designer of striking front pages.
“He’s great at the design part,” Pinyan said. “You never have to worry about page design — Bran always has a good idea.”
Strickland, who was promoted to assistant managing editor in December, still gets in the occasional pithy sports headline. His front-page headline for the Alabama BCS Championship game — “BIG, EASY” in giant letters –- is a perfect example of his work, Pinyan said.
It was an obvious choice for a game in New Orleans, Pinyan said, but Strickland’s touch made it special.
“A comma can mean a lot,” she said.
Strickland said that in 2011, The Star managed to have the perfect combination of writers and significant sports events.
“We were really fortunate to have good people in good places,” Strickland said. “And we weren’t afraid to do things that were ambitious.”
Among those ambitious things was a plan to launch a special section on prep football playoffs and a special section on college football on the same day. As that edition of the paper was being put together, The Star got word that Clay Chalkville High School was disqualified from state playoffs — a story that ran on the front page at the same time as both special sections.
That paper published on a date that was randomly selected by APSE judges for the contest.
Strickland said the Star couldn’t have managed such good coverage without an excellent team of writers and editors, including Nick Birdsong, Al Muskewitz, Michael Casagrande, Charles Bennett, Bobby Bozeman, Jared Gravette and Joe Medley.
Medley also had good news Tuesday. The APSE named him among the nation’s top 10 sports columnists in papers with a circulation of less than 30,000.
It’s not the first award for Medley, who has picked up many statewide honors. But the columnist claimed it was the material, not the writing, that made his columns work.
Among other stories, Medley covered the last game in the decades-old rivalry between Clay County and Lineville. The two schools will merge this year, ending one of the hardest-fought annual contests in Alabama high school football.
Medley’s columns described the anguish of a player who missed an extra point, the careful speeches by coaches whose players would be on the same team next year, and the elation of the winning team.
“Not many games come to a crescendo like that,” Medley said. “I just tried to stay out of the way and tell people what happened.”
Medley said that when he came to The Star 15 years ago, he was impressed with the roster of writers on the sports desk. He said he didn’t want to let his colleagues down.
“I just want to be a good player on a good team,” Medley said in a telephone interview from the sidelines of a basketball game. “I’ve been blessed to be part of a great team and I hope this means I’m doing my part.”
More APSE awards are expected to be announced today.