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NWMA announces 2019-20 wrestling media award winners

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. -- The National Wrestling Media Association has announced its annual award winners for the 2019-20 season.

The NWMA is the national professional organization for journalists who cover the sport of amateur wrestling. This includes reporters, editors, publishers, webmasters, photographers, broadcasters, athletic communications professionals and other media professionals who share an interest and involvement in the sport. The organization was founded in 1989.

This past offseason, the NWMA opted to reorganize several awards categories, and develop new categories that recognize and celebrate the advances and innovations from the sport's media outlets.

This year's honorees include two innovators in wrestling coverage from both the print and online industries, a familiar voice, a new voice, a prominent beat writer, breakthrough performances and longtime sports information professionals.

Shane Sparks
Shane Sparks of the Big Ten Network and Trackwrestling earns his second honor as the NWMA's Broadcaster of the Year and his first since 2011. Sparks' colleague at Trackwrestling/SportsEngine, Richard Immel, wins his first Photographer of the Year award. He is also a previous recipient of the now-retired New Media Specialist honor. Tom Housenick of The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania is the 2019-20 Journalist of the Year, while longtime professional sports information directors Stacie Michaud of Navy and Chris Caputo of Pitt-Johnstown are honored for their work in the respective Division I and Small College SID of the Year awards. PA Power Wrestling, which had been nominated numerous times for Website of the Year, takes the first Outlet of the Year award. Outlet of the Year combines the previous awards for Website and Publication of the Year into a singular award. Ryan Warner's Wrestling Changed My Life podcast is the first winner of the Podcast of the Year, a category much needed due to the rise of the medium within the sport.

The NWMA also announced the creation of Spotlight Awards, which recognize individuals or organizations who have gone above and beyond just the normal categories and the awards themselves cater to the recipient. Wreaper Wrestling in honored for its work in promoting women's wrestling with a spotlight as a Breakthrough Outlet, while Brant Parsons, a workhorse for the Orlando Sentinel earns a spotlight for his Innovative Journalism, using his technical knowledge and love of the sport to create a culture of wrestling news at the paper and its online presence to promote wrestling.

The highest award the NWMA presents is its Jay Hammond Memorial Service Award, which is given to the late Dan McCool, who spent a long career as a writer at the Des Moines Register and an author of several wrestling books. Wisconsin native Justin Tritz is also honored as he recently stepped away from TrackWrestling, the company he helped create from a small project aimed at helping seed tournaments to one of the world's foremost information hubs in the sport.

"It's extremely rewarding to honor those who give their time and effort to the sport of wrestling to cover it in a rapidly evolving media landscape," said Jason Bryant, President of the NWMA. "This year's group might be some of the most distinguished in terms of their high level of work spanning decades, not just any single year. We're pleased that longtime nominees finally punch through and new leaders in the wrestling media have emerged. The field of nominations might be the most robust we've ever seen. Ultimately, the individual winners were voted on by their peers and while everyone was deserving, we're honored to recognize these outstanding individuals and outlets."

Outlet of the Year: PA Power Wrestling
The brand PA Power Wrestling is not a new one as founder Jeff Upson started the PA Power Rankings back in 2005 while he was a student at Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The name became a professional reality in 2012 and the relevance and coverage of PA Power Wrestling has advanced significantly since 2016 as the site brought on veteran journalist and former college wrestler Eric Knopsnyder. The site has done live coverage, rankings, previews, four different podcasts covering different aspects of the state and has moved into events with The Surge and True Power. PA Power has provided Pennsylvania-focused coverage from some of the sport's top events, including the NCAA Tournament, Junior Worlds, Fargo, PIAA and Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling tournaments and looks forward to helping make the sport more accessible to the masses.

NWMA on PA Power: "Pennsylvania has an insatiable appetite for high school wrestling, which is evidenced by the sheer number of websites covering or posting about the sport. PA Power has risen to the forefront of wrestling coverage in Pennsylvania. They bring a new school approach to their content, but with the polish of seasoned journalism. The crew at PA Power also makes sure they focus on as many different angles within the state as possible. It's full of great information and packaged well."

Journalist of the Year: Tom Housenick, The Morning Call
The rugged Lehigh Valley is one of the biggest high school wrestling hotbeds in the nation and it's also one of the most competitive beats among the local news media from both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. King's College graduate Tom Housenick has been with the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call since 2008, 20 years after starting his career as a sports writer. He's had two runs covering high school wrestling, handling the beat again since 2016. He's covered 11 state championships and four state team championships-Coincidentally (or not?) all won by teams within his coverage area. Some of his best work isn't match coverage, but his development of feature stories, highlighting some of the behind-the-scenes stories involving wrestlers and their families. Recently, his coverage of the high school wrestling scene and how COVID-19 has impacted it has drawn eyes nationwide.

NWMA on Housenick: "Tom isn't the first writer from the Lehigh Valley to win this honor and he won't be the last. In fact, his work is so strong, that it might not be his last. It's one of the most competitive beats in all of wrestling and Tom's work isn't just solid, it's next level good. With the newspaper business downsizing all over the country, we see papers in the Lehigh Valley still covering wrestling with the intensity its passionate fan base desires. There is a professional sports type of competitiveness for breaking news and pumping out eye-grabbing features in the region. Like the wrestlers, if you're one of the best wrestling writers in this region, you're one of the best in the country."

Broadcaster of the Year: Shane Sparks, Big Ten Network
A Wisconsin native, Sparks has held a number of roles with commentary and broadcasting, starting with his initial project at BadgerStateWrestling.com, which garnered him the Broadcaster of the Year Award in 2011. Now a two-time recipient, Sparks has been a sideline and play-by-play voice for the Big Ten Network and has worked the World Championships and World Cup for NBC Sports, Trackwrestling and events for USA Wrestling, to name a few. Sparks' energetic style and genuine love for the sport has been one of his signatures.

NWMA on Sparks: "What else can you say about Shane? If you ran a blood test on him, you'd find a steady stream of wrestling chatter and caffeine. The guy has one speed and he is meticulous in his preparation (and his attire) and he's become a voice synonymous with wrestling. Shane is a guy who could win this every year if we allowed for it, but he's also a humble guy who isn't afraid to ask questions and try to better himself continually."

Photographer of the Year: Richard Immel, Trackwrestling
A Midwest City, Oklahoma native and now Minnesota resident, Immel has served in a number of roles in wrestling media and marketing and promotions over the last eight years. His foray into photography in 2017 made an instant splash. As the Marketing Manager for Trackwrestling, he's got access to some of the top events in the world. A current Vice President of the NWMA, Immel started as an intern with Flowrestling before working full-time for USA Wrestling as its Communications Manager. He was a vital force in the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling in 2013 and has a diverse skill set that's led him to working events for United World Wrestling. Immel was previously honored by the NWMA in 2014 as its New Media Specialist of the Year.

NWMA on Immel: "Richard is a natural wrestling photographer. His background as a wrestler gives him the instincts and timing that it takes to shoot fast-paced action predictively. His work at USA Wrestling, and his outgoing personality, gave him access to the athletes where he built strong, lasting friendships. That familiarity and care shines through in his artistry of wrestling photography."

Podcast of the Year: Wrestling Changed My Life hosted by Ryan Warner
Ryan Warner's podcast, Wrestling Changed My Life, has a simple presence. That theme has permeated the nearly 200 individual episodes he's released since November of 2018. Warner, an Illinois native, hustles to create dynamic podcast documentary series' as well as his twice-weekly interview show, which features some of the biggest names in the sport and also highlights people who Warner uses to showcase their lesser known stories about the value of the sport. Warner is working with the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and USA Wrestling with its recently launched Etched in Stone series.

NWMA on Wrestling Changed My Life: "This sport has literally thousands of unique stories it can tell. Ryan's premise is so effective because it's based around the core question of "how wrestling changed your life?" His ability to get to the heart of the story as well as pull some deep conversations out of his guests makes this a funny, heartfelt, "dust in your eye" at times listen . The show is well-produced, energetic and is a must-listen for fans and media alike. It's pretty much a guarantee you're going to learn something."

Division I SID of the Year: Stacie Michaud, Navy
Stacie Michaud is in her 23rd year at the United States Naval Academy and currently serves as an Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information. She has been the primary media contact for the Navy wrestling program for 16 of those 23 years where she has worked alongside five different head coaches including National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductees Bruce Burnett and Cary Kolat, who is in his first season leading the Midshipmen. In addition to working with wrestling, she is the primary media contact for Navy's men's lacrosse, men's golf and squash programs, and is the secondary contact for the football program.

NWMA on Michaud: "Stacie's one of the most professional, complete and concise people in the sport. She doesn't get the benefit of student volunteers like many Division I programs have at their disposal in the sports information industry. In a department with 33 sports, staff can be spread thin but Stacie has always been able to deliver when it comes to information about Navy wrestling. She's a true professional with her craft."

Small College SID of the Year: Chris Caputo, Pitt-Johnstown
Chris Caputo grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and for the past 22 years, he's been back in his hometown as the Sports Information Director at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. Caputo was thrust immediately into the legacy of Pitt-Johnstown wrestling, as his first year on the job, the Mountain Cats won the NCAA Division II national championship. Caputo's handled the media duties for numerous regional championships in Johnstown and has coordinated events around the legendary Carlton Haselrig and coach Pat Pecora, who last year set the college wrestling record for most dual meet wins as a college wrestling coach. Caputo manages 15 sports as a one-man shop at UPJ but still finds time to work on a number of committees for the school and wrestling. Consistently one of the top SIDs regardless of division, Caputo's level of professionalism and his attention to detail with wrestling continues to make him one of the best in the country.

NWMA on Caputo: "Chris is always a true professional and has always provided fantastic coverage for perennial D2 power Pitt-Johnstown for so many years. We are fortunate to have SIDs like Chris in D2 wrestling. We truly appreciate his great work to promote and support our sport."

Spotlight Award for Innovative Journalism: Brant Parsons, Orlando Sentinel
Brant Parsons is a sports community manager for OrlandoSentinel.com and a high school wrestling reporter. He has covered high school wrestling for the Sentinel since 2004, moving his coverage from local to statewide in 2015. When eventually moving into a full-time job as a manager of sports content for the Orlando Sentinel website in the summer of 2006, he asked to continue covering wrestling and was given full and eager approval.

Now he runs one of the most successful sections on all of OrlandoSentinel.com with its legion of subscribers and vocal supporters. The coverage still includes results and schedules but now also includes Top 20 rankings for each weight class in all three classes. In the last year, girls and all-class rankings have also been added to the site that also includes features and news stories across the sport that is now covered year-round and not just during the high school season.

NWMA on Parsons: "The work Brant has been able to do to promote interest and coverage of wrestling in Florida through his role at the Orlando Sentinel is outstanding. It's a testament to pushing for more and getting the opportunity to show how viable wrestling coverage is for the high school level. Brant's work also shows how much content wrestling fans will consume if they're given the opportunity. It's our belief that wrestling in Florida has improved because the awareness and coverage of the sport has improved, in part because of the work he's done there."

Spotlight Award for Breakthrough Outlet: Wreaper Wrestling
Wreaper Wrestling is an outlet focused on the world of women's wrestling. Their aim is to inspire athletes with a cutting-edge brand for women's wrestling. Through the site's social media and website offerings, they promote any and all senior-level domestic/international events and tournaments and highlight individual wrestlers and teams. Founded by Lara-Lay Hinojosa and husband Arthur, Wreaper started up in March 2018 and has since added senior-level competitors Lauren Mason and Dymond Guilford to the production team.

NWMA on Wreaper Wrestling: "We've had a rise in the coverage of women's wrestling over the past two years and Wreaper Wrestling has been helping to push that bar higher. They're everywhere they can possibly be with content that's aimed at telling the stories and hearing the voices behind those stories. They're off to a great start and have set a pretty solid pace for what is now expected of media dedicated to women's wrestling."

The Jay Hammond Memorial Service Award is a recognition and service award to media professionals for their work in the effort to educate and enhance the sport of wrestling through media.

Jay Hammond Memorial Service Award: Dan McCool, Des Moines Register
The following is the obituary for Dan McCool from Legacy.com, who passed away on May 4, 2020

Dan was born on August 31, 1959 in Clarion, Iowa to Robert and Kitty McCool.

After high school Dan dedicated his life to the sport of wrestling. He enjoyed many sports, but wrestling was #1 for him. He began his journalism career as a reporter/photographer in North Dakota, then moved on to Knoxville, Iowa, and eventually to the Cedar Falls Record. Following that, he was able to spend 30 years as a reporter for the Des Moines Register, where he covered wrestling at the high school, college and international level. He also reported on baseball, football and boxing, among other sports.

Following his newspaper career, he had the opportunity to write three books about wrestling in Iowa, most notably chronicling 100 years of the Iowa high school state tournament. His toughest challenge on winter weekends during wrestling season was picking just one (or two if he could) wrestling tournaments to attend. If he could have been at all of them at once, he would have.

Dan was always concerned about doing good for the sport of wrestling and shied away from the personal recognition people often wanted to give him for his work. He also loved oldies music, photography and travel, both for business and pleasure.

NWMA on McCool: "There are about as many words we could say about Dan's impact on wrestling coverage in Iowa as there are words he'd written during his long career around the mats. Dan's gruff wit could be taken many ways, but some of the things he enjoyed most were simply sitting down and talking wrestling. Dan's presence will be missed."

Jay Hammond Memorial Service Award: Justin Tritz, Trackwrestling
The following is taken from Justin Tritz's sign-off column on Trackwrestling.com on April 9, 2020.

Eighteen years ago I set out on that journey with little more than ambition and the work ethic instilled in me from my childhood on a farm and my experiences in the sport of wrestling. I had no idea where that path would lead, but I knew I was going to apply the same principles I learned throughout my wrestling career to the success of Trackwrestling.

As you can imagine, the journey was filled with challenges. Each one of these challenges forced us to grow and adapt, and over time Trackwrestling grew to be a household name throughout the wrestling world. It is impossible to put 18 years of your life into something and not ask yourself whether or not it was successful. Considering the fact that success is relative, I personally believe my journey was a huge success. First and foremost, my wife and I have three fantastic, healthy children, and we have provided our family with everything we needed up to this point in our lives. The wrestling world has a tool to provide the most comprehensive historical record of any sport and it allows me as a fan, coach, and parent to stay up to date with pretty much everything happening in the sport. Trackwrestling is now owned and operated by a company that can manage the growth and provide the stability needed to ensure the longevity of the entire system.

In the end, what made it all successful was the people I met and the friendships I formed along the way. Not only did I form relationships that will last a lifetime, but those same relationships helped stabilize Trackwrestling in the face of our biggest challenges and I will be forever grateful for both. All of these people know who they are, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of you.

I am excited for the future of Trackwrestling! We have assembled an incredible team that's fully committed to further building and supporting it. Together with SportsEngine and NBC Sports (the ownership group of Trackwrestling), the company is well-positioned for long term stability and growth. - JT

NWMA on Tritz: To really break down the impact Justin had on wrestling would take a long, long time. His innovations transformed tournament coverage, operations and live event video. When Fargo went to an easily readable, live-updated format through Trackwrestling, it was one of the seminal moments in how much better that monstrous event got covered. Justin created new ways to run events more efficiently and also found ways that enabled the media to cover those tournaments more thoroughly as well. Trackwrestling is one of those companies that when you look back 20 years from now, you're going to wonder how we ever did things the old way - and Justin's a big reason why we don't do it the old way."

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