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Journalism senior wins $5,000 in national sportswriting competition

Friday, November 08, 2013

LAWRENCE — Michael Vernon, a University of Kansas journalism senior from Houston, has been named a winner of the prestigious 2013 Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship, a national award for excellence in sports writing at the college level.

Vernon’s winning column for the University Daily Kansan, “Kansas City native recounts experience at Boston Marathon bombing,” provided a localized view of the aftermath from a local marathon runner who completed the race an hour and 16 minutes before the explosions. Soon after the explosions, Vernon discovered that Kansas City runner Greg Hall was tweeting his observations of the immediate reactions in Boston and reached out to Hall through a direct message on Twitter.

“His tweets were gripping,” Vernon said. “He had captured this terrible scene that had grabbed the nation. I was fortunate that he was willing to talk with me at length about what he saw, and I was also fortunate to have Professor (Scott) Reinardy to help me shape this story beyond what I was planning, to tell how this tragedy affected people locally.”

Vernon, a news and information major within the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was one of five recipients selected from across the country. The award competition is currently open to only 30 journalism schools, which are each selected by the Jim Murray Foundation to participate and submit a single nominee for consideration.

Reinardy, chair of the journalism school’s news and information track, said that Vernon has been clear about his interest in sports writing since his freshman year, so the award feels like a culmination of clear focus and years of consistent effort.

“Mike has always shown an interest beyond his years for sports writing,” Reinardy said. “He’s been coming into my office since he was a freshman to talk about it. The Jim Murray award honors Mike for following in the footsteps of a sports writer who was on the cutting edge of some new journalism that emerged in the late '60s and '70s. Jim Murray told sports stories from the perspective of the athlete, not the games. He gave us the human condition of sports, the real insider’s view of the life behind the games. Murray cut right to it. He was honest, and his words were sharp. I can’t think of a better role model for our students.”

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 sports writer 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.

Vernon recently traveled to Pasadena, Calif., to accept the award. Among his extended family members in attendance was his uncle, Steve Krug, who was named the KU journalism school’s Outstanding Graduating Senior in 1970.

Vernon is the second KU journalism student to be named a Jim Murray Memorial Scholar, following Alyssa Rainbolt, who won the award in 2009.

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