Boston Globe reporter wins Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize in Education Writers Association Contest
Bob Hohler wins for his series "Failing Our Athletes: The Sad State of Sports in Boston Public Schools"
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 15, 2010 – The Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler won the top prize in the National Awards for Education Reporting for his seven – part series “Failing Our Athletes: The Sad State of Sports in Boston Public Schools.”
The Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize is given annually to journalists for distinguished education reporting and the announcement was made at EWA’s annual conference in San Francisco, Calif.
Hohler, an investigative journalist for the Boston Globe sports section, spent a year exploring the plight of young, student athletes. His stories made an immediate impression on school, city and community leaders during the summer of 2009.
EWA contest judges described the series as “compelling.”
“Bob took the series beyond the playing fields and explained clearly how the lack of funding in the Boston schools impacted students and academic interest,” said the judges. “He showed why this mattered, beyond the ability just to play sports. And it appears that his work produced results.”
Hohler described a system where student athletes were neglected on and off the field, finding Boston public schools spent a small fraction of money in comparison to what other reputable school systems devote to athletic programs. In addition, he discovered wide spread administrative deficiencies and lack of support for programs.
In essence, he found a broken system and an issue mostly unknown to anyone outside of Boston high school sports. At one school, a baseball team held practices in a glass-littered alley; at another school a football team practiced on a makeshift field filled with manhole covers; and in another instance, one team practiced on a field filled with waste causing players to nickname it the “toilet bowl.” Hohler also found some schools had no teams in popular sports, and in some cases some schools had no coaches to lead teams. Efforts to help athletes maintain academic requirements to participate in activities were negligent system wide.
And most troubling is that Hohler discovered a class divide existed where the city’s most academically elite schools received more funding for athletic programs.
Some Boston public school students already victims of urban violence told the journalist they felt further disenfranchised by their experiences on the playing field.
As a result of Hohler’s reporting, more than $7.5 million has been pledged to rebuild athletics in the Boston public school system over the next three years and academic mentoring efforts are being established.
Businesses, universities and local sports teams have all promised to aid the school system in itsefforts.
Hohler’s series has also won the John Curly Center for Sports Journalism Award and the printcategory in the Sport in Society’s True Heroes of Sport Award.
Before his current reporting assignment Hohler covered the Boston Red Sox.
The other contenders for EWA’s grand prize this year were Daniel de Vise and Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post; Blake Morrison, Peter Eisler, Anthony Debarros and Elizabeth Weise, USA Today; Susan A. Nielsen, Oregonian; and Drew Lindsay, Washingtonian.
EWA president Dale Mezzacappa said the organization has made a commitment to recognize education reporting and that issues are diverse.
"To name just a few, topics of stories recognized this year varied from the frustrations of brand new teachers sent to schools with overwhelming problems, to bus safety, to how the decline of sports programs impact students' interest in academics - there has never been a greater need for in-depth, quality reporting on education, " she said.
Every year since the 1960s, EWA has honored reporting that leads to a greater understanding of education and the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize has been awarded since 1972. EWA gives prizes in 19 different categories and it is the only independently judged education writing competition of its kind in the United States.
You can see the other winners of the 2009 National Awards for Education Reporting here.