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Student Press Review
Edmund J. Sullivan Award presented to Munsonian staff members
Muncie Central High School students and adviser honored for their fight for press freedom
Editor's note: Originally published: March 22, 2004
Adviser Terry Nelson (left) and the staff of the Munsonian accept the Edmund J. Sullivan award for their fight for press freedom.
Photo : Joe Piniero
The following is the citation for the Edmund J. Sullivan Award presented on March 19, 2004 at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Shirley Yaskin, chair of the Columbia Scholastic Press Advisers Association's Honors Committee, read the citation during a special Awards Convocation in the Rotunda of Columbia's Low Memorial Library.
The Edmund J. Sullivan Award was established in 1997 and honors student journalists who have fought for the right to speak their minds while in pursuit of the truth on behalf of their audiences.
If you know anything about state of Indiana and the movie "Hoosiers," you will know that basketball games there are a religious experience.
But the story I am about to tell takes the heavenly game into the depths of hell for the staff of the Munsonian at Muncie Central High School, who are being honored today with the Sullivan Award.
It is not an easy situation when a long time prominent basketball coach falls from grace, explains adviser Terry Nelson.
"It was a story that fell into the laps of my students one Thursday evening when a staff member told her that the varsity coach, Bill Harrell, who had been inducted into both the Kentucky and the Indiana Hall of Fame for his coaching, and who came out of retirement five years ago to once again coach at Muncie Central, was paying his players to play," she said.
The staff further found out that another coach had shared this information with the principal, who did nothing. Consequently, the second coach felt compelled to report this to authorities of the Indiana High School Athletic Association and with that, the Munsonian set out to find the truth.
This was difficult because the principal, whose son was a starter for the team, was placed in charge of the investigation along with the athletic director, and the basketball booster's president was the principal's wife.
But they did a series of stories, interviewing 24 sources from the players to local sportscasters and engaged the Student Press Law Center for help.
They tried to get documents from the IHSAA but were given the run around and never received the information in spite of the fact that, of course, it is public information.
The day after the story was published, the students suffered.
The editor's car was hit in the parking lot and her yard was toilet papered. One writer, who had written the sidebar, got an Instant Message threatening bodily harm by members of the basketball team for her part in the story. The photographers were barred from covering the regional volleyball match and the sectional football game. The principal refused any more interviews for any story, as did the athletic director.
Even the local papers at first were hesitant to cover the story as no sports editor or reporter would tackle the story because of the prominence of the coach. The coach eventually resigned.
Says Robin Gibson, assistant metro editor of the Muncie Star Press, "For a school newspaper to cover a story that hits so close to home and prompts such emotional reactions from readers is even more difficult."
"But from the earliest rumblings of possible problems, we were aware that the Munsonian was pursuing the story and the staff delivered through well-rounded professional level coverage," said Gibson.
What have the students learned? "They've learned that truth and ethics win, but not without hardship," says their adviser.
"In my 28 years of advising, this story was by far the most difficult for my students to write and the one of which I am most proud," says Nelson.
The Columbia Scholastic Press Association is proud to award the Edmund J. Sullivan Award to the staff of the Munsonian of Muncie Central High School, in Muncie, Indiana. Congratulations on your determination and your courage.
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