We don’t often get to hear Gary Smith talking about the craft. Here’s a rare treat: a conversation with Richard Deitsch about Gary’s Sports Illustrated cover story on a football coach who helped save lives during a school shooting in Ohio.
From The Mayborn:
DENTON (UNT), Texas — An article in TheWashington Post about a Manassas, Va., swimming pool salesman experiencing the unraveling of his decades-long success story during a summer of disappointments received the first place award in the first Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest sponsored by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.
Eli Saslow’s “Life of a salesman: Selling success, when the American dream is downsized” was published Oct. 7 in the Post.
The Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest, which was co-sponsored by The Dallas Morning News, is the newest writing contest offered by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which has been hosted each July since 2005 by the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalismat the University of North Texas.
From its first years, the conference has held its Personal Essay, Book Manuscript and Reported Narrative contests to recognize extraordinaryliterary journalism and narrative nonfiction from writers who had not published their work. The conference and The Dallas Morning News launched the Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest to honor previously published work and to encourage narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across the U.S.Long-form narratives published during 2012 were eligible for the competition.
“With the focus on narrative journalism that these awards represent, we hope they will encourage more compelling, important and interesting narrative stories that attract and retain subscribers,” said Jim Moroney, publisher and chief executive officer of the Morning News.
As the first-place winner, Saslow, a national enterprise writer for the Post, receives $5,000 and free registration to attend the 2013 Mayborn conference, which will be held July 19-21 (Friday-Sunday)at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas.
“It’s an honor to be recognized along with some of the writers I admire. It’s also heartening to see evidence of so many newspapers supporting narrative journalism,” Saslow said.
Kevin Merida, the managing editor of the Washington Post, said, “We’re honored to win two of the top three prizes in theBest American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest. These awards reflect not only the extraordinary gifts of Eli Saslow and Anne Hull but also the Washington Post’s unwavering commitment to ambitious narrative journalism.”
Kelley Benham, a reporter at The Tampa Bay Times, received the contest’s second-place award of $2,000 for “Never Let Go,” her personal account of the months following the birth of her daughter, who weighed 1 pound and 4 ounces when she was born more than 12 weeks premature. It was published in December.
Anne Hull, another writer at The Washington Post, was named the contest’s third-place winner and received $1,000. Her article, “Breaking Free,” traces a teenage girl’s climb out of poverty and her working-class neighborhood in New Castle, Penn., as she prepared for college. It was also published in December.
All three winning narratives will be published before the 2014 Mayborn conference in a print and e-book anthology, “The Best American Newspaper Narratives of 2012,” that will be funded by the Vick Family Foundation.
The contest judges were Maria Carrillo, managing editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk; Roy Peter Clark, a writer instructor and former dean at the Poynter Institute; Roger Thurow, a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal; Michele Weldon, assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School; and Mike Wilson, managing editor of The Tampa Bay Times.
The judges also selected three runners up and four notable narratives to be included in “The Best American Newspaper Narratives.” The runners-up are:
•John Branch of The New York Times for “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” published in December.
•Dan Barry of The New York Times for “Donna’s Diner,” published in October.
•Rosalind Bentley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for “The Nation’s Poet,” published in October.
The notable narrative winners are:
•Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for “I Boy: A family’s challenge to understand gender,” published in December.
•Monica Rhor, formerly of the Houston Chronicle, for “Young Houstonians go from Homeless to College,” published in July.
•Louis Hansen of The Virginian-Pilot for “Girl Who Took Down a Gang,” published in December.
•Martin Kuz, formerly of Stars and Stripes, for “Soldiers Recount Attack,” published in May 2012.
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Joshua Sharpe: This Father’s Day marks the 13th anniversary of the death of a Woodstock teen killed in a car accident. The man accused of causing the crash was believed to be in the United States illegally. There has been no trial in the case.
Dustin Inman was a 16-year-old Etowah High School student who spent his days, like many other Cherokee County boys his age, fishing, hunting and passing time with friends and family.
If he were alive today, he would be 29 years old, but Dustin’s life was cut short when he and his parents, Billy and Kathy Inman, were in a car accident in Gilmer County on June 16, 2000.
The Inmans were on their way to visit family in Hiawassee when they stopped at a red light in east Ellijay and a car barreled into them from behind.
Dustin died on the scene, and his mother was critically injured.
Billy received a concussion and recovered, but he said Thursday the wounds cut in his family’s lives will never heal.
Kathy sustained severe brain injuries in the crash and now uses a wheelchair.
Billy said her injuries have subjected her to changes in her brain’s activity, chronic headaches, seizures and numerous surgeries.
“People don’t realize we’re still dealing with this 13 years later,” he said.
Besides having to adjust to the new realities of their lives, the Inmans have spent the last 13 years searching for Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, the man the Inmans hold responsible for their son’s death, and have led a passionate fight for immigration reform.
Robert Sanchez: Steve Rolln was on the line with his man DC the Brain Supreme. DC had been talking to three strippers—Cinnamon, Chocolate, and Dark-N-Lovely—who’d just gotten back from Miami and had told DC, who was a strip-club DJ, about a chant that had gone viral in the South Florida clubs: “Whoomp! There it is.” It was difficult to decipher at first; the refrain was so guttural, so dirty. Was it “whoop” or “whoops” or “woot”? No, no, no. It was whoomp, a bit of ingenious, onomatopoeic strip-club slang to which someone had appended the phrase “there it is.” A woman takes it all off, and—Whoomp! There it is. DC was on it. He wanted to take those four words, wrap a beat around them, and make a song. A party song. The party song.
“Yeah, but how do you spell ‘whoomp’?” Steve asked his best friend—the kid he’d grown up with in Denver in the early ’80s, the guy he’d brought to Atlanta all those years later with the dream they’d someday hit it big in the hip-hop game. They’d had to move to the South; Denver didn’t have what they needed to make it.
Atlanta, on the other hand, was the perfect place for these two young rappers. It was the summer of 1992; Bobby Brown, who had made Atlanta his adopted home, was a growing presence at the top of the R&B charts. Record executive L.A. Reid was churning out hits with an all-star list of African-American talent. Now, four years after the release of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton; three years after the Beastie Boys reimagined hip-hop with Paul’s Boutique; and one year after Ice-T’s O.G. Original Gangster, DC and Steve—together known as Tag Team—were ready. They didn’t, however, want to compete with those artists. What they wanted to do was much more pedestrian, but no less ambitious: They would create a song with a shuffling high-hat rhythm and a bass line that you could feel in your bones, with lyrics about partying and fun and sex. If they did it right, it would drive people onto the dance floor. If they had a hit, it would play on a seemingly endless loop on MTV and VH1 and FM radio stations. It would show up in movies. People across the country would chant the chorus at clubs; fans at basketball games would shout “whoomp!” after spectacular dunks. And the two guys from Denver would be world-famous and, one day, become very, very rich.
More Eli Saslow: In NEWTOWN, Conn. — They had promised to try everything, so Mark Barden went down into the basement to begin another project in memory of Daniel. The families of Sandy Hook Elementary were collaborating on a Mother’s Day card, which would be produced by a marketing firm and mailed to hundreds of politicians across the country. “A difference-maker,” the organizers had called it. Maybe if Mark could find the most arresting photo of his 7-year-old son, people would be compelled to act.
It hardly mattered that what Mark and his wife, Jackie, really wanted was to ignore Mother’s Day altogether, to stay in their pajamas with their two surviving children, turn off their phones and reward themselves for making it through another day with a glass of Irish whiskey neat.
“Our purpose now is to force people to remember,” Mark said, so down he went into his office to sift through 1,700 photos of the family they had been.
Wright Thompson: VERONA, Italy — Right up until he started quoting Hitler and dropping N-bombs, my new friend was a great dude. I’ll call him The Hooligan. A more generous host would be hard to find. Soon after we met, he made sure we stopped at the one place in town that served Campari correctly. He speaks eight languages, and seemed nothing like the Hellas Verona fans I’d read about, the neo-fascist, neo-Nazi, racist thugs. The Hooligan insisted the Veronese just have a dark sense of humor and refuse to wear the yoke of modern political correctness.
Now we are headed toward the terraces of the stadium. Soon I’ll be packed in with the hard-core fans, three people for every seat, chest to back, eyes burning from smoke bombs. Near the entrance to the stands, I ask The Hooligan to translate any chants hurled down at the players. He is an old-school soccer thug, not on a first-name basis with impulse control. His eyes are slate blue, and his face has darkened with intensity as kickoff approaches. His voice is a sharp blade.
“How about, ‘You’re a f—ing n—–’?” he says, and we walk inside.
Danielle Paquette: Early morning, on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Tampa, Taryn Stone cradles a bonsai tree and chats with a gray-haired man who just bought her two shots of Jameson whiskey.
“Where’d you get that tree, anyway?” he asks.
“On the side of the road in L.A.,” she says, laughing. “It’s for my husband.”
“What were you doing there?”
“I work in the film industry.”
The bubbly 23-year-old considers the vaguest possible response. Should she avoid the conversation that made her mother weep? This guy seems cool enough, she thinks. Or simply buzzed.
“I’m the talent.”
“Like an actress?” he presses. “Where have I seen you?”
She pauses. All around people are snoring into travel pillows.
“Actually, I’m a porn star.”
Ben Montgomery: In February 1961, Vic Prinzi pulled into the visitors’ lot at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna and sat in the car collecting his thoughts. He was apprehensive.
“Why am I here?” he wondered.
He could still turn around, head back to Tallahassee and send word that he had changed his mind. Prinzi was 25 and self-confident.
His years as Florida State’s quarterback would eventually land him in the school’s hall of fame.
He’d played with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, but got cut, and so he came back to Florida.
A friend told him about the opening at the state’s oldest reform school. With more than 800 boys between 7 and 18, it had grown to one of the largest homes for troubled kids in the country.
The job seemed custom-made for Prinzi, who earned a degree in juvenile delinquency with a focus on criminal psychology. But his anxiety about working with young criminals, teaching them athletics no less, had sneaked up on him.
He introduced himself to the school’s superintendent, David Walters, who gave Prinzi a nickel tour. The 1,400-acre campus was stunning. Stately cottages sat upon rolling green hills covered in tall pines.
Walters introduced Prinzi to his assistant superintendent, a stout man with a sandy crew cut. The two administrators told Prinzi the school operated on a ranking system based on behavior: Grub, Explorer, Pioneer, Pilot and Ace. Aces got privileges, but Grubs faced strict discipline, including solitary confinement.
“We’re going to rehab these kids if it breaks every bone in their bodies,” the assistant superintendent told Prinzi.
Eli Saslow on the allegations that ruined a football coach’s career:
THE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR walked onto the field unannounced, wearing jeans and sandals, and Todd Hoffner knew in that moment that something was terribly wrong. Nobody interrupted his football practices at Minnesota State Mankato without advance notice and permission. His success as head coach was based on maintaining total control; each practice was scripted to the minute. He believed small disruptions in preparation became big problems during games, so he sometimes asked his players to recite a motto: No mistakes. No distractions. No surprises.
Now, on Aug. 17, 2012, his life was about to become the story of all three.
The athletic director approached Hoffner at midfield and told the coach he wanted to speak with him privately. “What’s this about?” Hoffner asked, but the athletic director simply motioned for him to follow. Only a month earlier, Hoffner had earned a new four-year contract with a raise of more than 15 percent, and he had already stated his plans to stay at Mankato for the rest of his career. Hoffner and the AD walked into an adjacent building, where a woman from the university’s human resources department was waiting. She handed Hoffner a typed note on university letterhead, and he hurriedly began to read, each phrase blurring into the next. Investigative leave. Effective immediately. No longer permitted on university grounds.
“Is this a joke?” Hoffner asked. “What did I do?” The woman from HR refused to answer. She told him to leave campus immediately. She said he would learn more about the university’s reasoning in the next few days.