The Albany Herald's sports staff picked up another great haul of awards at from the Georgia Sports Writers Association recently.
ALBANY — In just his second year with The Albany Herald, college beat writer John Millikan paced the sports department with three first-place honors and one second when the annual Georgia Sportswriters Association awards were announced recently, while sports editor Danny Aller earned two firsts and a third and former high school writer Mike Phillips took home a first and two seconds.
Competing in Division II (30,000 circulation or less) The Herald’s sports staff was also honored with three section awards, including second place in Best Section Layout and third place in Best Sports Section and Best Sunday Sports section.
“We’re proud of the fine job our sports department does, and I’m happy to see the recognition they received from their peers,” Albany Herald Editor Jim Hendricks said. “Danny, John and Mike showed again in 2012 that they’re the top sports reporting team in our area and one of the best in the state.”
Millikan swept the state’s game story category, picking up top honors in Best Event Story on Deadline — Pro Sports, Best Event Story on Deadline — College Sports and Best Event Story on Deadline — High School Sports.
Millikan’s pro sports honor came from his coverage of the final day of The Masters golf tournament in 2012 when former UGA star Bubba Watson won his first major, while his win in the college category was for his gamer on the Darton men’s soccer team being upset in the NJCAA national semifinal game after entering as the favorite win the championship. Millikan’s final first-place honor came as a result of his vivid story recapping the Westover vs. Americus-Sumter football game last year that ended with Patriots WR Jackie Childs catching a miracle fourth-down touchdown pass from 34 yards out with just seconds left to beat the Panthers. His lone second-place award was given in the Amateur, Non-Scholastic Sports division for a feature he did on Albany 8-year-old baseball player Will Plowden, who overcame a severe birth defect to not only play the game he loved but throw a no-hitter during an All-Star game.
Aller’s first-place awards came in the Best Sports News Story on Deadline — College Sports and Outdoors Writing categories. He earned honors for the former with his article on two former Herald Players of the Year, Lee County’s D’Vontrey Richardson and Thomas Nichols, both of whom decided nearly at the same time to quit pro baseball and pursue other avenues in life, while the latter award was given for an article written on a team of Lee County professional fisherman, Ryan Tiernan and Shawn Vallandingham, who hit the big time last year with a $25K win in the HT Redfish Series’ season-ending championship event in Slidell, La.
Aller’s third-place honor was given in the Best Event Story on Deadline — Pro Sports for his coverage of Giants catcher and Leesburg native Buster Posey winning and accepting the 2012 NL MVP award during a charity dinner at his mother’s school in Lee County late last year.
As for Phillips, the paper’s high school writer who recently left The Herald after 3 1/2 years to be closer to his family in Texas, he picked up three more awards on his way out.
Phillips received his first-place award in the Amateur, Non-Scholastic Sports division for his feature on Albany native and former Georgia Tech track star Angelo Taylor, who was going for history at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London by trying to become the first Olympic athlete to win gold three times in the 400-meter hurdle event.
The first of Phillips’ two second-place awards came in the Best Event Story On Deadline — High School Sports category for his game story about the Westwood baseball team’s march to the state title, led by former Herald Co-Player of the Year, Douglas Nobles, while the other was in the Best Feature Or Series — Non-Deadline — Pro Sports division for his Christmas Day feature on former Albany State and Oakland Raiders star Dan Land, who gave up on a pro football career to return to his hometown and become a father, husband, coach and mentor to countless student-athletes.
The numerous honors capped another successful haul for The Herald’s sports staff under the direction of Aller, who is entering his seventh year as the director of the newspaper’s sports operations.
The awards, he said, never get old.
“We approach every story as if we’re trying to write that next award-winner — whether it’s five paragraphs about a youth baseball game or a 4,000-word feature about some of Southwest Georgia’s biggest names, like Deion Branch or Buster Posey,” Aller said. “Do we submit every single story we write for these awards? No — but we like to think we could. Ideally, at the end of every year, the goal is be able to close our eyes, reach into an imaginary folder of all the stories we’ve written during the last 365 days and know that whatever we pull out has a chance to be one of the best of the state in its respective category.
“I can’t thank Mike and John enough for all their efforts this past year, as well as editor Jim Hendricks and managing editor Danny Carter for giving us the creative freedom to cover sports across Southwest Georgia in the best and most interesting manner possible. It was a team effort in 2012, just like it is every year.”