Toasting Mary: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Mary Albl on the job covering a cross country meet at Wickham Park in East Hartford (Photo by John Nash)

Mary Albl, left, on the job covering a cross country meet at Wickham Park in East Hartford (Photo by John Nash)

Mary Albl is the future of our chosen profession and I sure hope the journalism industry lasts long enough so people can read her words and appreciate her ability, not to mention everything else she brings to the world of covering local high school sports and beyond.

And the reason I post this today is simple.

This is the tale of two stories. Mine and her’s. Literally.

Our subject was Hannah DeBalsi, one of the best high school distance runners in the country. As a freshman at Staples High School, DeBalsi burst onto the scene as a pretty good distance runner.

By the time her sophomore year ended, she had emerged as one of the greatest runners this country has ever seen for her age group.

DeBalsi’s out-of-nowhere story was one of those tales that deserved to be told and Mary and I, working for different “competing” news outlets, have been there to cover Hannah’s success pretty much every step of the way.

In October of 2013, I wrote a feature story on Hannah — The headline was “Holy Hannah” and you can read it by clicking here — and I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out.

It captured the mood Hannah’s emergence had brought to the state’s cross country and track and field scene and once it was written and put to bed it was one of those stories where I patted myself on the back (nobody else in this business does, it seems) and I moved on to the next story that needed to be told.

Almost one year later, Mary — a writer for the Digital First Media Group, which publishes a bevy of papers and websites just north of where my paper is located — penned her own feature story on Hannah, who was entering her junior season.

You can read Mary’s story by clicking here and I urge you to do so because her story blew my story out of the water. If we were both track runners, taking on a 3,200-meter run (which, I add, is Hannah’s on-track specialty), Mary would have lapped me and then some.

It was one of the finest pieces of journalism I’ve read since relocating to Connecticut eight years ago. What Mary did was capture the true essence of Hannah DeBalsi and the kind of kid she is both on the track and off it. It was great writing, great reporting and great packaging via the website.

Today, I learned that Mary won first place for her feature story on Hannah in the Connecticut SPJ Excellence Awards.

It is such a deserved honor and I wanted to publicly congratulate Mary on the award.

Mary — who hails from Boise, Idaho — is often teased about her love of covering the sport of track and field, but she’s the best at giving a lot of athletes the credit they don’t get but fully deserve; at least compared to the traditional ball-playing athletes who suit up in shoulder pads on Friday nights, or drive through a winter’s night to make it rain 3-point shots, or those who have having the ability to hit a round ball with a round bat.

She is an outstanding writer who recognizes the stories that come out track and field are just as compelling as those that come from everywhere else and she carries that baton proudly.

As a 30-year veteran of covering high school sports, I’m proud to share the sidelines with somebody like Mary Albl — and if this newspaper business somehow survives for the long haul, then I know it’s in very capable hands with writers like her devoted to the job of telling great stories.

Congratulations, Mary. Job well done.

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