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Vol. 50, No. 3 • March 2013 • .pdf version
ESPN.com's Medcalf wins Rising Star award
Being named the winner of the Rising Star Award is another humbling career experience for a sharecropper's grandson, ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf.
Medcalf, 29, is the fourth recipient of the Rising Star award, which goes to a USBWA member who is under 30 years of age and shows exceptional promise in our profession. Medcalf played football and ran track early in his career at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and he served as the public-address announcer for three of the Mavericks' sports teams, but he was never a sports writer while in college. And, yet, early in his college years, he made a bold declaration.
"When I got to Mankato, I told people that I wanted to go work for ESPN," Medcalf recalled. "People would kind of look at you crazy, because no one even knows where Mankato is. I didn't go to Michigan or Syracuse or one of those bigger schools. So, how are you going to get there?"
Medcalf's initial answer to his own question was to become the first African-American editor-in-chief of his school's newspaper, the MSU Reporter. He also took internships at both ESPN the Magazine and at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that led to fulltime jobs. The internship at the Star-Tribune following his graduation at Mankato led to jobs covering the night cops beat and City Hall, both in St. Paul. He was named Minnesota's AP Young Journalist of the Year in 2006.
did Medcalf know that these experiences would be the perfect preparation for becoming the University of Minnesota men's basketball beat writer in 2007 and for the Golden Gophers' particularly turbulent season of 2009-10. That year, the highly recruited Royce White was involved in a pair of legal matters that led to his suspension from the team, his announcement on YouTube that he was leaving the program and his withdrawal from school. Another top recruit, Trevor Mbakwe, was suspended while he awaited trial for a felony assault charge. Starting point guard Al Nolen became academically ineligible at midseason.
"It was one bad thing after another," Medcalf said. "It seemed like literally every other day, there was something new happening with the program. I think I grew a lot, because it forced me to pull all of my experiences together and write a lot of high-profile stories.
"When other young sports writers ask me what they should do to get on a sports-writing path, I always tell them that they should do everything but sports for a time. For me (covering the Gophers), I was essentially covering a crime beat. I might not have known where to look for documents I needed if I hadn't had experience as a crime reporter. I had to deal with a lot of people who had nothing to do with basketball – lawyers and judges and victims. Then you had to tell a sports story that wasn't really a sports story."
The drama didn't end with the 2009-10 season. A year later, Medcalf learned that Devoe Joseph was transferring in midseason from a 3 a.m. email from Joseph's mother.
Through it all, Medcalf said his skin grew thicker and that he learned some important lessons along the way.
"The biggest thing I learned is that you have to be fearless in this business," Medcalf said. "You don't want to get so close that you can't write the story where the coach wakes up next to a strip club, drunk. If you get that call, you have to be in a position to write it."
Hired by ESPN.com in 2011, Medcalf found that his ability to work with video, TV, radio and live chats to be as valuable as his writing skills. Though he had no formal broadcast training, he believes that co-hosting that Saturday evening sports radio show at Mankato State helped him become a multimedia journalist.
He also has noticed that he might again be a pioneer of sorts. The first African-American editor of his school newspaper is now the only African-American national college-basketball writer.
The significance of his achievements sunk in the first time he covered a Final Four, in 2010.
"Covering the Final Four with all these other national reporters felt like I had achieved one of the things I'd really set out to accomplish," Medcalf said. "Remember, in my family, I'm two generations away from sharecroppers. My mom's dad was chopping wood in a forest in Louisiana. My grandfather was a sharecropper in the South who couldn't read or write.
"And here I am. I'd like to think that's progress."
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