‘The 100-Yard Deception’ wins Curley Center award for excellence in youth sports

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An investigative series examining the durability of synthetic turf sports fields — which led to a nationwide class-action suit that could produce millions of dollars for taxpayers in school districts and towns across the county — has earned the Award for Excellence in Coverage of Youth Sports from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.

Reporters Christopher Baxter and Matthew Stanmyre drove the effort by NJ Advance Media on “The 100-Yard Deception” as they reviewed more than 5,000 documents and traveled hundreds of miles during their reporting on the types of fields that play host to thousands of youth sports competitions every year. Their six-month-long investigation relied only on primary source information in order to maintain credibility and trust among readers. 

SERIES: 100-Yard Deception

That work, combined with information from researchers and supported by a multimedia approach that embraced technology to tell the story (including an interactive map of turf field locations across the nation), positioned the series to both inform and make an impact.

Editor Kevin Whitmer called the project “youth sports reporting at its finest” in his nomination letter and the three external judges for the award agreed.

“It was an excellent, comprehensive look at the money being spent on athletic fields that did not live up to their warranty claims,” said judge Jim Buzinski, co-founder of Outsports. “It resulted in lawsuits and hearings, none of which would have happened without the series.”

Judges Amanda Gifford of ESPN and Gary Potosky were similarly impressed.

“It’s marker for civic journalism — not just sports — everywhere because it delivered tremendous changes. It chases the ultimate public service journalism in that it deals with money,” said Potosky, sports editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It has a relentless feel to it, like a detective movie that just keeps moving and moving and never slows down.”

NJ Advance Media also coordinated with its sister websites and newspapers in other states to run the story and create localized follow-ups. It collaborated with the Associated Press and developed a strategic plan to push the story out nationally. It also partnered with NPR and its affiliate in Boston (WBUR-FM) to produce an 18-minute segment that aired on 260 radio stations across the country.

As of March 24, 2017, 10 fraud lawsuits have been filed against FieldTurf in six different states as a direct result of the series, and six of those cases are seeking class-action certification.

The award — established in 2009 to honor creative, in-depth and innovative coverage of youth and high school sports by broadcast, print and online journalists — will be presented April 24 during a regional meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors at Penn State.

The John Curley Center for Sports Journalism was established in 2003 as a first-of-its-kind endeavor in higher education. The Curley Center explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, outreach, programming and research. The Center’s undergraduate curricular emphasis includes courses in sports writing, covering the business of sports, sports data, sports broadcasting and sports information. Along with core courses, the Curley Center places an emphasis on internships and hands-on experience with broadcast, multimedia and print outlets as well as with league, sport and team publicity operations.

Last Updated March 28, 2017