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Journalism student wins national sports writing award

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

LAWRENCE — Christian Hardy, a senior in journalism from Derby, has been named one of five winners of the prestigious Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship, a national award for excellence in sports writing at the college level.

Hardy, who served as the summer 2017 editor-in-chief of the University Daily Kansan, was chosen as one of the winners for a column he wrote about KU graduate John McLendon Jr., who attended the university from 1933 to 1936. McLendon was the first African-American to serve on the Student Senate and was the catalyst for integrating the swimming pool at KU. McLendon went on to become the first African-American coach of a professional sports team. He has been enshrined twice in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Hardy is planning to graduate in May 2018 with a double major in journalism and history. Because of his interest in history, he said he spends a lot of time at the Spencer Research Library, which is where he came across McLendon’s story and the idea for his award-winning column.

"A lot of times, students here focus so much on their classes and not the extracurricular resources that this university has at your fingertips,” Hardy said. “But spending time discovering this place and the things it has to offer outside of classes has proven over and over again to be extremely worthwhile for me in academics."

McLendon was a physical education major at KU, and a swimming class was a requirement for that degree. At that time, however, African-Americans were not allowed to swim in Robinson Gymnasium pool, so the requirement was waived for black students to maintain segregation. That was not acceptable to McLendon, and his senior year he swam in the pool. University officials responded by draining and refilling the pool, but McLendon let them know he planned to swim frequently, so if they decided to drain the pool each time, that would be a lot of work and water.

James Naismith was McLendon’s adviser and mentor, and both men worked to end the rule banning black students from using the KU pool.

"In general, Naismith and Phog Allen and basketball’s founders were catalysts for change when it came to race," Hardy said.

Hardy’s column also explores Naismith’s mentorship of McLendon, who was not allowed to play college basketball, but he learned the finer points of the game from Naismith and went on to have his own effect as a coach on the game of basketball. (Read Hardy’s column about McLendon here.)

The Murray award competition is currently open to 34 journalism schools, which are selected by the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation to participate and submit a single nominee for consideration.

The award, along with a $5,000 scholarship, honors Murray’s long and distinguished journalism career of more than 50 years, 37 of which were spent as a renowned sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times. Murray’s many honors included 14 Sports Writer of the Year awards from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, a Pulitzer Prize and the Red Smith Award, which is America’s most prestigious sports writing honor.

Hardy is the fifth KU journalism student to be named a Jim Murray Memorial Scholar: Scott Chasen won the award in 2016; Amie Just won the award in 2015; Mike Vernon won the award in 2013, and Alyssa Rainbolt won in 2009.