By Erik Hall 

The return of a Cy Young Award winner to his high school alma mater provided George Stoia one of his first opportunities to do a sports story. 

Stoia and 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel both went to Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa, Okla. Stoia wrote a story for his high school’s student newspaper about Keuchel’s return. 

“I’m sure the story was terrible looking back at it now, but I remember interviewing him and that was when he was first kind of getting into the major leagues,” Stoia said. “That’s kind of where I first fell in love with it.”

Stoia’s love for sports journalism took him to the University of Oklahoma, where he graduated in May with a journalism degree. 

As sports editor at the OU Daily, Stoia produced outstanding work that led to him winning the 2020 Associated Press Sports Editors Student Contest for a second consecutive year. He’s the first two-time winner in the four years of the student contest. 

“To be awarded this is a huge honor,” Stoia said. “I just really appreciate this award. And I know there’s a lot of great sports journalists out there that are working hard entering this industry just like I am.”

In addition to working at the OU Daily, Stoia previously held internships at the Detroit Free Press and The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was scheduled to intern at the Boston Globe in 2020, but that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He’s not sure what’s next, but he looks forward to doing more of what’s earned him accolades and got him started at his Tulsa high school newspaper. 

“I kind of fell in love with interviewing people,” Stoia said. 

Prior to Stoia winning the APSE Student Contest in 2019 and 2020, the previous winners were  Kelli Stacy (University of Oklahoma) and Emily Giambalvo (University of Georgia).

Judges praise George Stoia’s work

The judges for the 2020 APSE Student Contest were: 

  • Jenni Carlson, The Oklahoman sports columnist
  • Mikkel Christensen, Georgia College journalism professor
  • Nick Feely, The Villages Daily Sun sports editor
  • Joe Gisondi, Eastern Illinois University journalism professor
  • Erik Hall, USA Today Network digital producer for sports
  • Rachel Lenzi, Buffalo News sports reporter
  • Iliana Limón Romero, Orlando Sentinel sports editor
  • Lynn Worthy, Kansas City Star sports reporter

Stoia received first-place votes from four of the eight judges. Here are some of the judges’ comments on Stoia’s work. 

Christensen said of Stoia’s work: “In a field full of spectacular submissions, George Stoia stood out. His article, “Courageous: The Maggie Nichols story”, stays with the reader long after the last sentence is read. It tells the important, harrowing and inspiring story of gymnast Maggie Nichols overcoming challenges to excel in her sport and have an even bigger impact outside the arena. It is a storytelling masterpiece with quality reporting, well-painted scenes and a natural flow through the story. The terrific storytelling and thorough reporting are also present in the article that the story of Lincoln Riley’s interview with University of Houston, and, especially, in the portrait of Bill Bedenbaugh, the charismatic offensive line coach. All in all, this adds up to an outstanding portfolio!

Feely said of Stoia’s work: “His look into Lincoln Riley’s interview with Houston and subsequent choice to stay at Oklahoma uncovered great insight and gave a behind-the-scenes look that most readers would not otherwise get into an extremely high-profile position. The profile of Maggie Nichols was powerful, with a tone and in-depth reporting that met an important topic. All around, he showed an ability to blend complete reporting and a strong knowledge of the subject matter with strong writing that can captivate readers.”

Limón Romero said of Stoia’s work: “Really compelling interviews and topics that stretched beyond the traditional press conference. … The overall strength of the reporting and writing could not be denied, in my opinion. Keep up the great work and keep pushing to improve each day. You’re off to a terrific start.” 

Worthy said of Stoia’s work: “Inside story on Riley was timely and a good example of a story off of the news or the pending match-up. Goes beyond a typical advance. Writer provided insight and detail despite Riley not discussing the matter. The feature on gymnast Maggie Nichols is comprehensive, timely and handles some very delicate and serious subjects with a blend of detail and sensitivity. Draws strong quotes from a variety of sources, including parents and coaches.”

2020 APSE Student Contest Top 10

There were 29 students to enter the 2020 APSE Student Contest. There were 22 students that appeared on at least once on a judge’s top 10. 

Students submitted portfolios that consisted of three items — feature or enterprise story; multimedia or video item; and the third item of their choosing. 

Here are the students selected by the judges for having the best portfolios, and links to the stories they entered: 

1. George Stoia, Oklahoma — 63 points, 4 first-place votes | 1 2 3
T-2. Bennett Durando, Missouri — 41 points | 1 2 3
T-2. David Eckert, Penn State — 41 points | 1 2 3
4. Lila Bromberg, Maryland — 34 points, 1 first-place vote | 1 2 3
5. Nick Kelly, Missouri — 33 points | 1 2 3
6. Parth Upadhyaya, North Carolina — 31 points | 1 2 3 
7. Tyler King, Penn State — 27 points, 1 first-place vote | 1 2 3
8. Andy Kostka, Maryland — 24 points | 1 2 3
9. Christina Long, Missouri — 22 points | 1 2 3
T-10. Jason Krell, Arizona State — 17 points | 1 2 3
T-10. Caleb McCourry, Oklahoma — 17 points | 1 2 3

Entries came from undergraduate or graduate students who have been enrolled at a college or university during summer 2019, fall 2019 or spring 2020 academic terms. Work must come from the period of May 1, 2019, through April 10, 2020. 

The contest is open to all APSE student members, and members of any APSE student chapter at any college or university. Annual dues for APSE student membership are $25.

Erik Hall is the lead digital producer for sports with the USA Today Network. You can find him on Twitter @HallErik or at hallerik7@gmail.com

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