Deadline for Best Writing Contest extended to July 10

FWAA members may submit entries in the 2017 Best Writing Contest until July 10.

CATEGORIES

• Game Story (Immediate Deadline)

• Feature Story/Profile

• Enterprise/Investigative

• Column/Analysis/Commentary

BEAT WRITER OF THE YEAR AWARD

In addition, see below, we have created a special award for the top beat writer as judged by a special FWAA committee headed by FWAA board member Malcolm Moran. He is now the director of the Sports Capital Journalism Program, IUPUI.

WRITING CONTEST RULES

You must be an FWAA member in good standing to enter.

Deadline: July 10, 2017. Entries sent after the deadline WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.

Limit: One (1) article per category, although a series of articles may be submitted in the enterprise category.

Entries must have appeared in print or on line between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017.

Entries must be submitted electronically to contest@fwaa.com.

Entries not sent to this e-mail address will not be accepted

Send MS Word or text files only. DO NOT SEND HTML files, Word Perfect files, stories in other word processing software or links to stories on the Internet or electronic libraries

Make your entry easy to read by taking out unnecessary carriage returns (They can give your entry an odd look when opened by a judge’s word processing program)

Delete any embedded advertising, photos and cutlines from the files (The file should contain only your story and your identifying information)

At the top of each entry, the following information should be included:

• Writer(s)

• Publication or online service

• Category

• Date of publication

• E-mail address and telephone number for the writer(s) of the entry

The entries will be sorted and stripped of identifying information and forwarded to the judge(s).

Files containing your entries should follow this naming convention: yourname-category.doc

The category must be one of these four words: Game, Feature, Enterprise or Column

Example: KenStephens-game.doc

Only entries sent electronically will be accepted and all entries will be sorted and stripped of identifying information and forwarded to the judge(s)

FWAA BEAT WRITER OF THE YEAR AWARD: If you have a nomination of a beat writer who covers major college football (either a team or a conference) or you want to nominate yourself, please send an e-mail/letter explaining the qualifications of the person (no more than 250 words) to:

Malcolm Moran

Sports Capital Journalism Program IUPUI

University Library 3100J

755 W. Michigan

Indianapolis, IN 46202

Malcolm’s e-mail is malcolmmoran1@gmail.com. Malcolm and his committee will then make inquiries into the FWAA members nominated. In order to qualify for this award the person nominated must have been an FWAA member during the 2016 football season.

Questions? E-mail Ken Stephens at ken.stephens@sbcglobal.net.

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2016 Best Column: Lindsay Schnell

Comment by the judge, Mickey Spagnola: This category might have produced the best group of columns I’ve read in many years. Nice writing and very enterprising column ideas. But as I usually remind, make sure the column has something to say, not just a glorified feature. Now I made a few exceptions this year since a several of the second lace, third place and honorable mention columns told great stories and were well written. But I picked the winner over some of these great human interest stories because the writer wrote a true column, took a stand on a sensitive subject and had a strong opinion. Backed it up with emotion and fact. Same with the second-place winners, tough can’t believe I made an exception for columns starting with “I,” a pet-peeve of mine. But somehow these worked. Wish I had more awards to hand out.

By Lindsay Schnell, CampusRush.com

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — He started his media availability, as many athletes in this era do, by posing for a selfie, making sure anyone who would later view the photo could see all those gathered to talk to him.

Yes, 522 days after becoming infamous, Joe Mixon finally faced the media Tuesday morning at Orange Bowl media day.

Mixon told the roughly 50 reporters gathered around his small table that he was there to answer football questions only, a point previously made clear by an Orange Bowl representative who said that any media member who didn’t stick to the script would be asked to leave. This, for a player who was making his first public media appearance since he punched a female Oklahoma student and broke bones in her face in four places in July 2014—and who was allowed to stay on scholarship and earn his way back on to coach Bob Stoops’s football team.

But rather than answer questions, Mixon deflected them, just as he has done all season with would-be tacklers in the Sooners’ drive to the College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday against Clemson.

Two months before former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice blew up America’s willingness to tolerate an athlete’s violence against women, Mixon was granted a second chance by one of the premier programs in college football, which is on the verge of playing for its eighth national championship.

Mixon is one of the most talented tailbacks in college football. The 6′ 1″, 217-pound redshirt freshman averaged 6.8 yards per carry, gained 749 rushing yards and 345 receiving yards, and scored 11 touchdowns this season for 11–1 Oklahoma. He came to Norman from Oakley, Calif., as a five-star recruit lauded for his playmaking ability. And this fall, Mixon and sophomore tailback Samaje Perine have formed one of the best rushing tandems in the country. Mixon’s play has been crucial for a team determined to show last year’s 8–5 season was a fluke, and that the Sooners still belong in college football’s upper tier.

Mixon pleaded in October 2014 to a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from an incident the month before outside a Norman restaurant. Days before the Sooners started fall camp, Mixon punched a female student, knocking her to the ground and breaking her jaw. Yes, the victim put her hands on Mixon first. There is no doubt this is a complicated situation, but that’s not an excuse. This is a clear-cut issue. Hitting a woman should never be accepted. Ever.

It’s 2015, and we like to say we take these issues seriously.

But really, do we take them seriously enough?

The victim underwent surgery and Mixon was suspended from the football program for a year in August 2014. Except he was kept on scholarship, and he did not lose any NCAA eligibility. Oklahoma lists 2014 as a redshirt season for Mixon. So he sat out his first year on campus (which is common for freshmen at major college football programs) and he didn’t practice.

Some fans think this story is old news and that the media needs to move on. As soon as Mixon is willing to answer some questions—remember, this is first time he has spoken to reporters since the incident—we will. Alas, he wasn’t interested in that Tuesday. (Mixon said his lawyer advised him not to answer any nonfootball questions on Tuesday.)

Asked if he had a desire to answer any nonfootball questions, Mixon said no.

Asked if he thinks he should answer those, he said, “Not here.”

Asked if he was worried about alienating female football fans, he said, “Next question.”

Asked if he feels sorry for what happened, he said, “I won’t answer that.”

He credited his coaches, teammates and girlfriend with helping him stay the course in his year off the field.

Early in the media session, Mixon said he would describe himself as a great person, and I—one of the few female sports reporters in the scrum—followed up, asking why he would choose to use that adjective. He answered by saying that if we got to know him, we would see how he was and become convinced.

Mixon may not understand it yet, but great people are about action, not talk. If someone is truly great or humble or intelligent, he or she shouldn’t have to say so. Great people answer the tough questions and confront difficult situations simply because they hold themselves to a higher standard.

Would the female he punched—or her father—describe Mixon as a great person? Would any person off the street who is not an Oklahoma fan read about Mixon’s off-field situation and say he is great? If a man struck Mixon’s girlfriend, Taylor Sibella, or Stoops’s daughter, Mackenzie, and broke four bones in her face, would Mixon describe that guy as a great person?

In the spring, Oklahoma president David Boren expelled two students who had led racist chants during a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity event that had been captured on video. In a press release, Boren praised his school for how it handled the divisive video, saying: “I am extremely proud of the reaction and response expressed by our entire university family—students, faculty, staff, and alumni about this incident. They are ‘Real Sooners’ who believe in mutual respect for all.”

Perhaps he meant to say “for all men,” because allowing one male student to break the jaw of a female student and remain on scholarship is anything but mutually respectful.

In the wake of the SAE incident, Sooners senior linebacker Eric Striker became a spokesman for social justice, passionately condemning racism and demanding that his campus and community recognize the need for a zero-tolerance policy. Striker is one of the most thoughtful and engaging athletes in sports today. And it’s great that Oklahoma, as a football program and a university, is represented by someone like him, as well as by senior center Ty Darlington and redshirt junior quarterback Trevor Knight, who also took strong stands on the issue.

But the school is also represented by Mixon, redshirt senior linebacker Frank Shannon (suspended in 2014 following a Title IX sexual assault investigation) and, last year, by wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (welcomed to Oklahoma after being dismissed from Missouri in April 2014 following accusations of physically assaulting two women).

When asked about this, athletic director Joe Castiglione said each case is different, and advised reporters to look into Oklahoma’s track record before concluding that the program has created a culture tolerant of violence against women. I did: Mixon, Shannon and Green-Beckham—three tremendously talented athletes, each with the skills to help the Sooners win football games, and each with a well-known history of disrespecting women. What was that about mutual respect?

I asked Striker and Darlington, both of whom will riff on pretty much any topic, if they had concerns about Oklahoma looking hypocritical in all of this. The Sooners are arguably the most socially conscious team in collegiate athletics: They want to set the tone not just in how they win championships, but also in how they speak out for what they believe. Yet here they are, in the College Football Playoff, partially because their coaching staff and administration were willing to welcome back a player who punched a woman.

To their credit, Striker and Darlington answered the question. Striker said he believes people make mistakes and shouldn’t be judged solely for them. Darlington said this is a nuanced issue that can’t be wrapped up in a 15-second sound bite.

Both are correct, but still I’d like to ask Mixon a few of those prohibited nonfootball questions:

Why does this program get to pick and choose when it takes a stand on a touchy subject?

Why did he deserve a second chance, and why did that chance get to come at the highest level?

Do the Sooners, a championship-level program, hold themselves to the highest standard?

Is he remorseful?

What would he say to a young girl in Norman who asks her parents why that football player they cheer for hit someone like her?

And finally, this: Does he worry about his image, or has he reached the same conclusion as the 85,000-plus fans who stand in thunderous applause every time he scores a touchdown in Norman?

The video of Mixon’s punch isn’t available to the public, so he continues to skate by. There might be lots of dispute about him being a great person, but everyone can agree he is a great football player.

Lindsay Schnell

Lindsay Schnell

Lindsay Schnell

AGE: 29

COLLEGE: Oregon State

BACKGROUND: Lindsay has been a staff writer at Sports Illustrated since February, 2013. Prior to that she covered the Ducks and Beavers for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., where she still lives (she does not enjoy craft beer or running, so please don’t ask her for brewery or trail recommendations). The daughter of a long-time college basketball coach (her father) and former Pac-10 official (her mother), she grew up a hoops junkie, but decided she could cover this football thing after witnessing Oregon State’s stunning upset over No. 3 USC in 2006, her sophomore year at OSU.  At SI, she writes a weekly walk-on series, and last year was honored by the USBWA for her profile of college basketball’s most eccentric character, Bill Walton. She’d led the charge in narrative podcasting at SI, a new passion of hers. In her “free time” she enjoys interior decorating and outfit styling, and is mulling the creation of a lifestyle blog. In the offseason she adopted a black lab mix and named him Lupin, after her favorite Harry Potter character, which was basically the best decision of all time.

2016 Best Feature Story: Jon Solomon

Comment by the judge, Michael Weinreb: A well-crafted and comprehensive piece that directly confronts the concussion crisis through the telling of one family’s personal story.

By Jon Solomon, CBSSports.com

GERMANTOWN, Md. — Three blown-up photos of Ken and Kristen Sheely’s deceased son sit on the dining room table. There’s Derek as a little boy with his cute, wide smile. There’s an older Derek dressed in a tuxedo looking dapper for a school photo. There’s Derek celebrating a football championship with his high school teammates, playing the sport he loved so much that he helped pay his own way to transfer from Penn State to Division III Frostburg State so he could extend his football career.

The pictures occupy a permanent place on the table in the Sheelys’ suburban Maryland home, where the blinds are drawn. There is no new normal for two parents as they approach the fourth anniversary of their son’s death from traumatic head injuries sustained at a Frostburg State practice — injuries that Ken and Kristen believe in their gut could have been prevented.

Kristen often lives at the family’s house near Penn State; it’s better to avoid normal conversations with parents who knew Derek and casually talk as if nothing happened. Ken, who works for the U.S. Department of Energy, permanently stays in Maryland but does grocery shopping on Sundays at 6:30 a.m. to avoid running into people he knows.

“What kind of conversation am I supposed to have with people?” Ken asks. “There are times when you can be looking to other people like normal, but we think of Derek 24/7. We think about what he would be doing now.”

Kristen softly sobs deeply in the background and wipes away tears. “Time is pretty much before and after Derek so the distance between when we last had him is exponential,” she says. “There’s no moving on for us — and we don’t want to, either. We often think what kind of parents would we be if we were ‘healed’ and had ‘peace’? I want my son back and that’s that.”

Most likely, you don’t know the name Derek Sheely. Like so many indistinguishable Division III players, Sheely played college football because he loved the game, and for the bond with his teammates.

If you do recognize Sheely’s name, it’s probably because Ken and Kristen remain in a lawsuit against the NCAA, Frostburg State coach Tom Rogish, running backs coach Jamie Schumacher and trainer Michael Sweitzer Jr., and helmet manufacturer Schutt Sports. The parents claim the Frostburg State employees missed multiple opportunities to treat Derek’s head injury, and the NCAA failed to implement concussion rules or investigate why their son’s brain was so traumatically injured that he collapsed Aug. 22, 2011, on a practice field and died six days later.

For a while, Ken and Kristen believed Derek’s death was a freak accident given the information they say they received from coaches. That changed on March 22, 2012, when an anonymous Frostburg State player emailed details of what he claims he witnessed — claims that other teammates later corroborated.

Ken and Kristen say they learned Derek went to the trainer four times over three days complaining of symptoms, including blood coming from his forehead, yet he was never given a concussion test. According to the anonymous email that was filed as part of the lawsuit, Derek complained of a headache after a dangerous drill, causing Shumacher to respond as Rogish stood next to him, “Stop your bitching and moaning and quit acting like a p***y and get back out there Sheely!” When Derek later collapsed and players yelled for help, Rogish and Schumacher initially hollered for Derek to get up, according to the email. The coaches and trainer have denied wrongdoing.

“This is a boy they knew, too, which is something we have a difficult time with,” Kristen says. “They knew what kind of young man they had on that team who led others.”

Derek was the kid who intentionally wore a Steve Young jersey every day in Pee Wee practice in York, Pa., so coaches would remember him out of 100 children.

He was the child who came home from practice and immediately did sit-ups and push-ups before asking his dad to set up five chairs so he could practice running through the proper hole.

He was the diehard Penn State fan who signed a “contract” with his parents to take school seriously upon transferring from his dream university to play football at Frostburg State, because Ken and Kristen thought Derek was foolishly trying to relive his high school football days.

He was the Frostburg State senior co-captain with dreams of working for the CIA; who postponed his graduation date because he had one year of football eligibility left; who bussed tables to pay for school; who, as Ken and Kristen learned after his death, helped his best friend pay bills.

So no, you may not know Derek Sheely. But you probably know someone like him. And that should concern college football leaders. If football loses suburban families like the Sheelys, what does the sport’s future look like?

Will NCAA create enforceable rules for concussion care?

Ken wants to be clear: He and his wife don’t want to kill football — “Derek would be the first one horrified if we fundamentally changed football” — but they want to make it safer. Ken compares the football industry today to where the automotive industry used to be when rolling out new safety features.

“They put in seat belts and air bags in cars and anti-lock brakes, and people didn’t want them and said it would kill car sales,” Ken says. “We have more cars in this country now than ever and people want these safety features. What’s going to drive people away from football is mothers and parents that don’t trust the coaches and the NCAA to look after the interests of the kids. That’s what’s going to ruin football.”

No topic gets Ken angrier than discussing the NCAA and its inability, or unwillingness, to investigate a player’s death, or to set rules for contact in practice and concussion protocols but then not adhere to them — guidelines without teeth. The trauma to Derek’s brain was so devastating that doctors asked Ken and Kristen if he was in a car accident. Upon learning, no, the injury happened playing football, the doctors asked why Derek wasn’t wearing a helmet. He was. Ken and Kristen have tried unsuccessfully to reclaim his helmet from Frostburg State. The parents want it to remember him by, though they also allege Schutt Sports misrepresented that its DNA Pro Plus helmet worn by Derek can prevent head injuries.

“Derek had no contact all summer [before he died],” Ken says. “I dropped him off at school and basically a week later he had sustained so much head trauma, in one week, that he died from it. It’s not even believable that that could happen. Even in the macho environment of football where it’s, ‘Suck it up, just keep doing it,’ it was so excruciatingly bad that Derek sought out help and he was turned away, and the NCAA doesn’t want to come in and investigate.”

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Frostburg State coaches and trainer, has denied the coaches and trainer did anything wrong. Even if the allegations are true, lawyers for the Frostburg State employees wrote that the accusations don’t meet the legal standards for liability.

In court documents, the NCAA said that though it sympathizes with the Sheely family, the NCAA has no legal duty to protect college athletes because organizers of sporting events are not liable for injuries to voluntary participants who know the risk of injury. The NCAA’s own website has said the association was founded in 1906 “to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time,” a reference, in part, to recurring deaths on the football field that caused Teddy Roosevelt to take action.

At a 2014 Senate hearing on college sports, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) opened by asking how the NCAA could justify it has no legal duty to protect athletes. “At the very least, that was a terrible choice of words created by legal counsel to make a legal argument,” NCAA president Mark Emmert replied.

In reality, that’s exactly the NCAA’s legal argument: The NCAA surely wants to protect players and tries to do so, but it has no legal obligation. It’s a similar argument the NCAA uses as a defendant in a lawsuit over the academic scandal at North Carolina, arguing the NCAA has no legal duty to ensure the academic integrity of courses universities offer.

“What are they there for then?” Kristen asks. “I thought they were created for health and safety.”

The NCAA wrote that the alleged conduct at Frostburg State “would be in violation of NCAA guidelines and rules, best practices from medical experts, and even common sense.” But the NCAA said because it was not at the practices, the association doesn’t know if the allegations are true.

“See if a player signs an autograph and gets paid, and all of a sudden the NCAA will have 20 people investigating that thing,” Ken says, his voice rising in anger. “But player well-being? Then it’s only guidelines.”

One nagging question Ken and Kristen often wonder: Would the NCAA have investigated if this happened at a high-profile Division I school? Would the public outcry have been so much that the NCAA’s hands would have been forced to examine Derek’s death?

Ken worries about what he calls an “awkward middle” in football, meaning many lower-profile players lack protection and don’t matter as much. They’re the bodies who make up rosters — not the stars who NFL owners, college coaches and even high schools want to protect because of their value. In reality, these are the players that compose the majority of NCAA rosters. Even at the Division I level, there are very few true stars.

Still, even critics of the NCAA will acknowledge that concussions in college sports are being handled better than they were a couple years ago. But NCAA improvements often happen incrementally — even slower in some instances than NFL and youth football — and without an enforceable standard for everybody in college sports.

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline has been pushing for concussion safety rules, but has said he runs into the NCAA’s bureaucracy. Instead of rules across all divisions, there are guidelines — there’s that word again — and some individual conferences even apply their own policies. This year, certified athletic trainers or neurologists will be upstairs at football games for Power Five conferences looking for concussion symptoms. Yet how much control the medical officials have in stopping games, and whether they are independent, varies by conference.

Also new this year, the Power Five conferences have a concussion safety protocol committee that approves a school’s concussion plans by sport before a team can participate. Yet the committee can’t penalize schools if procedures later get violated. Why not?

“Because some people aren’t doing it correctly,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby bluntly said last winter. “They want to have local control and their coaches [are] saying, ‘I don’t want to be told what to do on the sideline.'”

Robert Stern, a prominent Boston University neurologist, said the NCAA’s relationship with conferences and schools is so complex that he’s not sure how the structure can produce consistent change for all athletes.

“The NCAA as the overarching organization has made tremendous changes over the last few years to improve the management of concussions,” Stern said. “The big issue, though, is much more common repetitive hits to the head that may not be detected or diagnosed as a concussion. Some leagues do it, but college football is not consistently reducing full-contact practices. The more that can be the focus, the happier I’ll be.”

A recent study by University of Virginia researchers documented this concern by analyzing the Cavaliers’ practices, which equated to about two full-pad sessions per week. The NFL has one such practice a week. The study found, for example, that two Virginia defensive tackles each had about 11 more head impacts during full-pad workouts than in shell workouts. The average difference for a player was 4.1.

None of this will bring Derek back, of course. Ken and Kristen say they were misled by coaches that Derek died from an unpreventable, freak accident, and not due to repetitive and dangerous actions. On Sept. 6, 2011, Frostburg State athletic director Troy Dell was asked by d3football.com if Derek’s death was a freak accident. “I’m going to pass on that one,” Dell responded. Dell, who has been deposed in the case, declined to comment through the university’s general counsel due to the lawsuit.

Rogish, the Frostburg State head coach, retired in 2013 three months after the lawsuit was filed. He finished with a 14-45 record. In an interview with d3football.com shortly after Derek died, Rogish said Derek had one of the team’s five highest grade point averages and had a passion for football while never missing summer workouts. “He was just a very committed athlete,” Rogish said.

Schumacher, the assistant who allegedly berated Derek to keep practicing while hurt, also left Frostburg State. Sweitzer Jr. remained employed at Frostburg State until leaving on Aug. 7, 2015, according to the university.

“Although FSU understands that the allegations asserted in the lawsuit have been and will continue to be strongly disputed, our deepest sympathies remain extended to the Sheely family,” Frostburg State general counsel Karen Treber said in a statement. “Derek Sheely was an outstanding member of the FSU community and his loss continues to be profoundly felt here. … FSU awards a scholarship in Mr. Sheely’s name each year to an outstanding student in a continuing tribute. We will continue to do so.”

Ken and Kristen created the Derek Sheely Foundation to bring awareness to their story and help others. But they find it’s hard to promote the foundation given how often they feel rejected by the NCAA.

“Practice limits cost the NCAA no money, yet they can’t get schools to do it,” Ken says. “They claim to have no power. They’re a powerless organization. … The irony of this whole thing from our standpoint is if the NCAA had responded to us, ‘Yes, we want to find out what really happened to Derek,’ they would have been the hero. We never wanted to sue anybody and we still don’t. We want to fix this thing. As far as I’m concerned, the offer is still on the table.”

‘We’re kind of stuck back then’

The Sheely lawsuit is now two years old. The trial date was recently delayed again, this time from September until June 2016, so additional discovery and depositions can occur. The Frostburg State player who anonymously tipped off the family has been found — his name is Brandon Henderson — and he’s willing to testify.

All parties have lined up some heavy hitters as expert witnesses. The Frostburg State coaches and trainer secured prominent neurologist Julian Bailes, who has been an NFL and college football team physician; concussion expert Kevin Guskiewicz, a certified athletic trainer at North Carolina; high-profile neurologist Jeffrey Kutcher, the team physician at Michigan; and former Alabama coach Gene Stallings and Division III national championship coach Bill Manlove to discuss coaching techniques. The NCAA has reserved the right to use those witnesses and others as well.

Among the experts for Ken and Kristen are prominent neurologist Robert Cantu, one of the nation’s leading concussion experts; and Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Haynes, who chairs the NFL Alumni’s Health and Wellness Committee.

Cantu believes Derek’s death was preventable, and that he sustained second impact syndrome — a condition that occurs when the brain swells rapidly after a person suffers a second concussion before symptoms from an earlier one have subsided. Bailes, a witness for the coaches and trainer, said there’s no evidence Derek experienced second impact syndrome, and that his death was caused by an acute suburdal hematoma that happens several times a year across the United States due to football collisions.

Because Derek was cremated, his brain was never studied by researchers. If Ken and Kristen had known the alleged circumstances around Derek’s death, they would have donated his brain to be analyzed.

“It’s never been about the money, so [the NCAA] can’t do anything from a monetary standpoint to not necessarily take this to trial,” Ken says. “They know what it is we’re looking for.”

Ken starts describing what they want — a list Ken and Kristen say they suggested to NCAA lawyers during an eight-hour mediation a year ago. Ken says he has “kooky” ideas that new NCAA concussion rules will be called the Derek Sheely Safety Rules, and that a Derek Sheely Safety Award will be established that will recognize players who speak up for teammates who won’t sit down with concussion symptoms.

What if a player safety award one day meant as much to the public as the Heisman Trophy? That’s highly unlikely. But these are the things that run through a dad’s mind so his son didn’t die without some purpose.

Ken and Kristen want standardized hitting limits at practices for all sports in all NCAA divisions. They want to ban certain drills, such as the one Frostburg State players called “the drill” that Derek, a fullback, was participating in when he collapsed.

Henderson, the anonymous emailer, described the drill run by Schumacher as “way more dangerous” than it should have been. The email said fullbacks repeatedly plowed over linebackers, who were told by Schumacher they could not defend themselves. Fullbacks not in the offensive rotation would play linebacker as Schumacher encouraged hard hits. When defensive players tried to make contact to defend themselves, Schumacher was furious, Henderson wrote. Basically, if what Henderson says is accurate, defensive players like Sheely had to stand still and get repeatedly run over. The lawsuit claims two other Frostburg State players sustained concussions in “the drill” just days before Sheely’s incident, and some players quit the team because of the drill.

Perhaps more than anything else, Ken and Kristen want the NCAA to investigate player safety issues. They want the NCAA to have the ability to suspend coaches whose actions are irresponsible. They understand many injuries can’t be investigated. But what Ken and Kristen can’t wrap their head around is how a college athlete dies playing an NCAA-sanctioned sport and an association created for player safety won’t demand answers.

Ken stresses he’s not saying every school is corrupt and every coach can’t be trusted. Still, he’s skeptical. He watched Michigan quarterback Shane Morris stumble around on the field last season after a hit to the head, stay in the game, and then later return for one play despite the university later acknowledging he suffered a concussion.

If it’s happening at Michigan, Ken wonders, why wouldn’t this be happening when the cameras aren’t on at practices or at lower-level schools? If colleges can’t afford to have neurologists at practices and games, Ken says, maybe the NCAA or College Football Playoff needs to foot that bill.

After the Michigan incident last fall, Hainline — the NCAA chief medical officer — said he could envision an NCAA enforcement system for concussions that could cover the entire association, but holes would still exist. “I don’t see a way of monitoring every possible thing,” Hainline said. “You have to be fair and say we’re not just looking at the televised games. You have to look at the 97 percent of other games going on, too. Those kids are at as much risk or not more.”

Ken still watches football. Kristen won’t watch anymore, but she doesn’t want to blame the sport as a whole — largely because of Derek’s love for the game — for what happened to her son. “Because Derek loved football, I’m more comfortable blaming the people who killed our child.”

Football allows Ken to still feel connected to Derek. Before Derek died, the family had just bought two Penn State season tickets. They anticipated a fight with Derek over who got to use them.

But yes, it’s impossible not to watch a football game differently after your son died from football injuries. “When you see somebody get injured and you hear an announcer say head injuries will really change when somebody dies playing football, that’s hard to hear,” Ken says. “People have died playing football, not just Derek.”

Ken believes the culture of football will change once a coach pulls an injured star player on the winning drive of the national championship game, demonstrating that doing the right thing trumps winning.

“It’s going to take courageous coaches, courageous parents, a courageous leader of the NCAA,” Ken says. “The thing that’s cowardly to do is to do the wrong thing and you know it’s wrong. The opposite of that is to do something you know is right but everybody else — society — doesn’t want to hear that. That’s what it’s going to take. This is a sad state, but if the only thing we do in this whole thing is for the next football coach whose player comes to them saying, ‘I’m not feeling well,’ and the first thing in the coach’s head is, ‘I might get my butt sued off if I don’t take care of this kid first,’ that is at least a change in the thought process instead of, ‘Bleepity, bleep, get back in there.'”

Derek physically lives on. He was a registered organ donor and some of his organs have helped other people’s lives. Two people now see because of Derek. Some stranger has kidneys because of Derek. Since Derek was on so much medication between the week he was hospitalized and died, some of his organs couldn’t be donated.

“We’re proud he did that, but it doesn’t help us,” Kristen says. She briefly considered trying to learn about the people who received Derek’s organs, “but I don’t think I can know.”

At the end of an interview with a reporter, Ken pulls out a photo album of Derek as a kid. Kristen moves onto the sofa to look since it has been too long since she saw them. “Aww,” she says, rubbing her eyes.

There’s Derek riding on a sled. There’s Derek and his sister Keyton at Disney World. There’s Derek pretending to be surprised when he got a cell phone as a present.

Ken tells the story of a young Derek standing up to a bully shortly after the family moved to Maryland. Two kids told Derek he was in their seat. Derek stood up, looked at the seat, and sarcastically replied, “I don’t see your name,” and sat down. The bullies beat him up. But they got booted off the bus a day later, causing other kids to thank Derek because they had previously been harassed.

“He might not have won the battle, but he won the war,” Ken says.

Ken and Kristen feel a responsibility to fight their own battles and win some sort of war for Derek. It’s not a war against football. Maybe it’s a war for common sense. Maybe it’s a war for doing the right thing.

Winning the lawsuit — what does winning even mean when your son is gone? — won’t fill the hole. There’s no new normal for Ken and Kristen. Ken shows the tattoos he got on his arm to remember Derek. Kristen looks at the blown-up pictures of Derek on the dining room table and can’t bear to come too close to them.

“To some degree,” Ken says, “we’re kind of stuck back then.”

Jon Solomon

jon-solomon

Jon Solomon

AGE: 40

COLLEGE: Maryland

Jon has won his fourth first-place award in the FWAA Best Writing Contest and been recognized a total of 11 times. He won in 2011 at The Birmingham News for a feature on the complicated life of Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain; in 2011 at The Birmingham News for a game story on Mississippi State’s first game since defensive end Nick Bell’s death; and in 2004 at The Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail for a column on James “Radio” Kennedy’s impact on the Anderson community. Jon has covered national college football at CBSSports.com since 2014. He previously covered Clemson for The Anderson Independent-Mail (1999-2003) and The State (2003-05), and wrote columns, enterprise and investigative stories for The Birmingham News (2005-2014). Jon’s wife, Mandy, and their two sons, Daniel and Josh, are the joys of his life and somehow put up with Jon’s crazy work schedule. Jon and his family live in Maryland, where they are big Orioles fans despite their feast-or-famine offense and shaky starting pitching.

2015 Best Feature, by Pete Thamel

ffaw_redesignComment by the judge, Steve Richardson: Thoughtful, well-researched piece on UT’s Charlie Strong. This story got way below the surface and explained why Strong is the way he is. It explains his life every step of the way from his childhood to becoming the CEO of one of college football’s traditional powers.

By Pete Thamel

Sports Illustrated

Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated

Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated

Charlie Strong opens his eyes. It’s 4 a.m. He rises, dresses and, without caffeine, drives 20 minutes to the Texas football facility. On Mondays he runs south to downtown via Red River Street and returns on Guadalupe Street. On Tuesdays he heads through neighborhoods to the north. The routes vary each day, but the goal remains the same — shave a few seconds off his time from the week before.

He does not always succeed, but Strong still bangs out five miles at a nine-minute clip, straining to outrace some previous version of himself. He has done this for his entire career, through 14 coaching jobs at eight universities — three decades spent pushing himself forward while running in loops. And yet even when he has reached his destination, Strong cannot help but do what he has always done, so he runs just as hard.

Last winter, after going 23-3 during his final two seasons at Louisville, Strong landed what many consider the best coaching gig in the country, signing a five-year, $26 million deal at Texas. If everything is big in Texas, the task of reviving the football team is no exception. The Longhorns went 18-17 in the Big 12 under Mack Brown over the last four seasons; this year they didn’t have a player drafted by the NFL for the first time since 1937. And Strong’s hiring as the program’s first black coach carries with it a social significance that matches the breadth of his improbable journey. “Could you ever believe,” Strong confided to a friend recently, “that I ended up at Texas?”

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2014 Best Enterprise, by Kevin Armstrong

Comment by the judge: Well-crafted story about one of the top quarterback gurus in the country. Writer presents a lot of detail about a topic that is one of the new trends in college football as well as provides insight into the behind-the-scenes dealings and relationships.

By Kevin Armstrong

New York Daily News

MOBILE, Ala. — Half-hour to kickoff at St. Paul’s Episcopal School on a Friday in October, and there’s a caller on WNSP 105.5 FM claiming Mother Nature’s keeping Hurricane Karen at bay in order for a varsity football game to be played. The top-ranked Toros from Spanish Fort are in The Port City to march against the No. 8 Saints, and David Morris, the one-time Alabama state record holder for yards and touchdowns in a season, pulls his gray Yukon — the one with the smile-shaped crack across the windshield — into the packed lot, pays $4 to park and walks on past tailgaters. St. Paul’s Headmaster Marty Lester greets Morris, a tutor to St. Paul’s sophomore starting quarterback Miller Mosley.

kevin armstrong

Kevin Armstrong

“David, don’t you have the other quarterback tonight, too?” Lester asks.

Morris nods. Truth be told, Morris tinkers with the mechanics of the starters on both teams, as well as the backups. There is a pipeline at St. Paul’s for Morris to tap into and he does so regularly, having helped along the careers of past preps stars such as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Florida State backup Jacob Coker.  All the better to the mothers and fathers whose children he instructs. As the private teacher and not a coach, Morris is undefeated on Friday nights and decides no controversies. Saints reserve Drew Wing’s father, Andrew, double checks with Morris on the next appointment.

“Nine thirty tomorrow morning, right?” Wing asks.

“Yessir,” Morris says.

Morris holds a unique position in Mobile’s quarterback boom. Once a three-year reserve behind Eli Manning at Ole Miss, Morris left the game after graduation, burnt out from being one snap away for three seasons behind the immovable Manning. Morris fought depression, took a job at his father’s real estate agency and moonlighted as a throwing instructor with teenagers in town upon request. Now 33, Morris is all in on growing his program — “Quarterback Country” — into a year-round, nationwide business. His experiences range from pushing Manning through the paces in the offseason to working with Tim Tebow to readying now-Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley for the NFL draft. Top prospects — including University of Miami recruit Malik Rosier — tout Morris’ ability to boost their confidence and identify flaws.

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2013 Best Feature, by Adam Lucas

Comment by the judge, Alan Abrahamson: A great feature should be a journey of discovery. This story is just that. It is full of not just connections but a series of incredible moments of revealing truths, each one taking the reader along through the story of one family’s incredible journey to and through the American dream. The cast of characters is rich and diverse. The action pieces are well-told and the back stories riveting. Finally, this piece also serves as compelling evidence that even in a world increasingly turning to bursts of 140 or fewer characters there thankfully remains a place for long-form journalism and the art of the well-told narrative. 

By Adam Lucas

Tar Heel Monthly

Adam Lucas

Adam Lucas

On the most famous play in modern Carolina football history, it looked like Gio Bernard was finally going to be caught by his history.

He’d spent twenty years outrunning it. He’d lived in Haiti with no running water. He’d sat in a tiny bathroom with his brother and father, all three men in tears over the loss of Gio’s mother. He’d shared an apartment in Ft. Lauderdale with rats.
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2013 Best Enterprise, by Matt Hayes

Comment by the judge, Alan Abrahamson: In this era of 24/7, instant-access, always-on journalism, the enterprise story offers something different. It takes us behind the curtain — tells us something we didn’t already know, couldn’t possibly have known without the diligence and the purpose of the reporters’ craft. Often, these stories rely on years of experience or a network of sources. When you finish reading such a story, a complex subject has been made simple or what was once hidden has been revealed. Even when, as was the case with Florida’s championship football team during the Urban Meyer years, it was hiding in plain sight. As the years go by, and the headlines about who was on that team continue to vie for attention, this story may prove to be even all the more illuminating.

By Matt Hayes

Sporting News

Matt Hayes

Matt Hayes

The uproar and controversy of Urban Meyer’s stunning recruiting coup at Ohio State settled in and Stefon Diggs, still on the Buckeyes’ wish list, was debating his future.

Diggs, the second-highest rated wide receiver in the country, had narrowed his list of potential schools to Maryland, Florida and Ohio State. For more than a week following National Signing Day on Feb. 1, and before Diggs eventually signed with Maryland, Meyer relentlessly pursued Diggs.
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2013 Best Column, by Ben Frederickson

Comment by the judge, Gene Duffey: Touching story of young boy and his enthusiasm for Wyoming football. Well researched with good quotes from Wyoming coach and a player.  

By Ben Frederickson

Casper Star-Tribune

Ben Frederickson

Ben Frederickson

The chubby-cheeked, brown-eyed boy from Rock Springs beamed on game days.

He loved to watch the University of Wyoming football team play in War Memorial Stadium, especially when his dad let him go down, close to the field, to be near the players.

Phillip and Cherilyn Hansen had taken their son, Hunter, and his older brother, Phillip Jr., to Laramie three times to join the crowd of brown and gold. Together, the family had cheered for their Pokes.

But things changed after July 29, 2011. Instead of trips to Laramie to watch his favorite team, Hunter made trips to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

Hunter was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a white-blood-cell attacking cancer that starts in bone marrow — and then spreads.
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2013 Best Game Story, by Ivan Maisel

Comment by the judge, Gene Duffey: Good lead that quickly told the story of Baylor football. Story captured the mood of the game and Baylor’s dominance. Liked the reference to Baylor knowing what a Heisman winner is like compared with Collin Klein. Nice quotes from Snyder and Klein.

By Ivan Maisel

ESPN.com

Ivan Maisel

Ivan Maisel

WACO, Texas — Floyd Casey Stadium will never be confused with Death Valley or the Horseshoe or any of the college football palaces where road teams get mugged. It seats 50,000 in theory, if rarely in reality, because Baylor just doesn’t fill it up. It’s old and unloved and five miles from campus, and Baylor can’t wait to tell you about the new stadium it will open in two years.
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ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel wins first-place in FWAA Best Writing Contest for fourth time

Ivan Maisel

Ivan Maisel

Veteran  Ivan Maisel of  ESPN.com claimed his fourth FWAA writing first-place award  during his career in the results just announced for the 21st Annual FWAA Best Writing Contest.  Matt Hayes of the Sporting News also won first place, picked up an honorable mention and was one of three writers to be recognized in two different categories.

Matt Hayes

Matt Hayes

USA Today’s George Schroeder and  Aaron Brenner, now with the  Charleston Post  and Courier, each received two honorable mentions.  Ben Frederickson, now at Fox Sports Midwest, and Adam Lucas of Tar Heel Monthly captured the other first-place awards.
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