Essay on Indiana sports legends earns IUPUI student top score in national scholarship contest

  • Aug. 11, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

INDIANAPOLIS -- An Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis journalism student's first-hand account of the IUPUI dedication celebrating a new recreational facility and honoring local sports legends -- the Lockefield Gardens Dust Bowl and Crispus Attucks High School state basketball champions -- has earned top honors in a national scholarship contest.

As the top-scoring writer, Elizabeth Cotter, 19, will receive the 2015 Jim Murray Memorial Foundation Judges’ Choice Scholarship Award of $5,000 for her essay showcasing the Dust Bowl, a dirt basketball court once on a spot that is now part of the IUPUI campus. The Dust Bowl became a proving ground for hundreds of young Indianapolis players, including members of the Attucks teams that won Indiana state championships in 1955 and 1956.

Cotter's 987-word essay received the highest score in the foundation's annual competition.  More than 30 colleges and universities are affiliated with the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation. Cotter is the first IUPUI student to win a Murray foundation scholarship.

"Elizabeth’s effort took a forgotten piece of campus real estate and brought it back to life," said Malcolm Moran, director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University on the IUPUI campus. "She met every deadline, submitted every revision, responded to every suggestion and searched for every detail that would capture the significance of the Dust Bowl and its place in Indiana history."

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation perpetuates the legacy of Jim Murray, a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist of the Los Angeles Times who died in 1998. In this year's contest, students were tasked with writing essays that showcased a person, event or location of historical significance to their respective campuses.

In her winning essay, Cotter writes about "A Championship Tribute," the April 1 dedication of the IUPUI Campus Recreation Outdoor Facility which included basketball great and Attucks star Oscar Robertson as a guest speaker:

"When I saw this tree over there," Oscar Robertson said. "I thought, 'There was where the Dust Bowl was.'" He stood beneath a tent on the (IUPUI) campus on a sunny spring afternoon, pointing to his right toward a tree just beyond a black iron fence ...

The tree towers over the three-story, multi-colored tan brick Lockefield Gardens apartment complex a few feet beyond the northeast section of the IUPUI campus known as Lockefield Green, where students have walked to class for years with no idea of what stood there and the powerful meaning that spot holds.

Although she knew about Robertson's sports legacy, Cotter said she only learned of the Dust Bowl because of the dedication.

"If I didn’t know about it, I figured a lot of other students didn't know either. To showcase it was very cool," said Cotter, who attended the dedication ceremony and the panel discussion afterward featuring Robertson and other Attucks alumni.

Cotter, a graduate of Indian River High School in Philadelphia, N.Y., moved with her family to Fort Wayne, Ind., after her father retired from a 20-year-career in the United States Army.

A junior in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, Cotter is majoring in journalism with a sports concentration. She is sports editor for the IUPUI student-run media page, "The Campus Citizen," and has participated in fantasy leagues following National Football League players since she was 11. Cotter, a summer intern at the CBS affiliate in Fort Wayne, dreams of becoming a sports writer reporting from the sidelines of NFL games.

The Murray foundation scholarship competition started with students from the nation's top 15 university journalism programs before expanding to its current size. Each year, a panel of professional judges score submitted essays and award $5,000 scholarships to the entrants with the top five scores. This year, six winners were selected because of a tie for fifth place.

"It is such an honor to receive such a prestigious award and be a part of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation family,” Cotter said. “I cannot thank IUPUI enough for giving me this opportunity."

The other 2015 scholarship winners are from the University of Kansas, University of Georgia, Penn State University, University of Missouri and Northwestern University. The Murray foundation will hold a celebration for all the winners on Oct. 24 at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, Calif.

Elizabeth Cotter, Photo courtesy of Lori Hickman Photography

Elizabeth Cotter, Photo courtesy of Lori Hickman Photography

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Diane Brown