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Three honored with Dan Jenkins Medals for Excellence in Sportswriting

October 26, 2019

FORT WORTH — Dan Jenkins’ legacy is doing just fine.

Seven months after the death of the best-selling novelist and longtime contributor at Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated, a sellout crowd Friday at Colonial Country Club celebrated three of his favorite topics—writing, golf and football—with Jack Nicklaus and three winners from the third-annual Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting.

“Jenke was a great friend,” said Nicklaus, whose association with the Fort Worth native goes back almost 60 years. “We miss him.”

Nicklaus recalled the good-natured sparring the two shared on tour. “I always enjoyed giving the needle out—give a jab, and get one back,” he told emcee Jimmy Roberts. “It was fun.”

Gary Smith, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, credited Jenkins and Frank Deford, two of his predecessors at Sports Illustrated: “They created the wave I caught and rode,” said Smith, also acknowledging the passing this year of Jay Lovinger, a longtime mentor and editor. “Follow your curiosity about the human heart and mind,” said Smith, the winner of four National Magazine Awards. “Treat it as sacred material. … Understand it, [don’t] judge it.”

Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post and Sarah Spain of ESPN earned Jenkins Medals for Best Sportswriting of the Year.

Sheinin was honored for “A lifelong dream washed away,” which tells the wrenching tale of the day a rainout caused career minor-league pitcher Brian Mazone to miss what would be his only chance to pitch in the majors (story link here).

Spain won for “Runs in the Family,” a story detailing the stunning surprise in the search by NFL assistant coach Deland McCullough for his biological parents (story link here).

Friday’s honorees joined previous winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award (Deford and Dave Kindred) and winners for Excellence in Sportswriting (Wright Thompson and Chris Ballard).

“Our goal and vision is to make the Jenkins Medal the Heisman Trophy of sportswriting in America,” said Michael Butterworth, director of the Center for Sports Communication & Media at the University of Texas, which oversees the Medals program and is the home for Jenkins’ archive of books, manuscripts and personal papers.

In Friday’s most poignant moment, Sally Jenkins, a best-selling author and award-winning columnist for the Washington Post, presented Nicklaus with a plaque and recalled the drive shared by the 18-time major champion and her father: “He tried to meet your excellence with his own.”