This image from Houston's annual youth basketball league took top honors in the best sports photograph category.

The Houston Herald won 26 awards, including the top prize in the prestigious general excellence category, in the Missouri Press Association’s annual Betterment Newspaper Contest.

The announcement came Saturday at the 150th annual convention of the Missouri Press Association at the Chateau on the Lake at Branson. The contest, judged by an out-of-state panel, recognized the best work of weekly and daily newspapers in 2015 in Missouri.

The Herald topped last year’s high of 25 awards for the organization and earned the general excellence honor for the first time. The publication won more awards than any other newspaper in south-central Missouri.

“We were happy to take home so many awards for our readership,” said Brad Gentry, Publisher. “It’s a great accomplishment for all our colleagues who work hard every day to publish the news in print and online.”

The Herald was awarded seven of the top prizes in categories among weekly newspapers in the 3,001 – 7,000 circulation category in Missouri. Along with general excellence, here are the paper’s top honors:

• Coverage of the tragic shootings in Tyrone — written by Jeff McNiell, Doug Davison and Gentry — won best breaking news story and best investigative reporting. “The design and thoroughness of the entry put this one over the top,” judges said.

• A series of three columns from Davison won in the best humorous columnist category. The first highlights a conversation between Davison and his donkey, “Abe,” as they discuss the difference a day, week, month or year can make.

The second, in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might be a Redneck” series, looks at signs indicating you might from the Ozarks. The third piece in the entry began when Davison returned a missed call and when communicating he had received a call from the number, was told in a women with a heavy New England accent, “No you didn’t.”

• An action photo by McNiell taken during Houston’s annual youth basketball league was named the best sports photograph. It captured several players, including Hailey Hoyle, chasing after a loose ball. “The perfect moment,” judges wrote. “The look in her eyes, focused on the ball, says it all. Extra points for a basketball photo that is not dominated by armpits.”

• McNiell’s frontpage illustration of area firemen who fight wildlife fires was selected the best photo illustration. “This is very eye-catching, and I think perfectly illustrates the wildire story,” judges said. “Love the creativity with this one.”

• A preview of the Houston High School baseball team’s district tournament was named the best information graphic. The artwork, with the title “Right Ingredients,” used science beakers to look at keys for the Tigers in the postseason.

Five of the Herald’s entries were runners-up in their respective categories:

• Davison received runner-up honors in the best coverage of government category for a pair of stories related to the U.S. Forest Service. One highlighted personnel who fight large wildlife fires in other states. The other looked at the Elder Piney Project as a large section of the Mark Twain National Forest in Texas County was designed for a forestry management undertaking.

• McNiell’s photograph of HHS softball player Autumn Walker opening a gift on Senior Night as she was surrounded by friends and family members placed among the best sports feature photographs.

• “Right Ingredients,” which won the best information graphic category, also placed second in best photo illustration. It was designed by McNiell.

• Best sports pages by McNiell. “Solid writing all the way through,” judges wrote. “Breakouts and points of entry on each page display a commitment to complete coverage.”

• Judges said Davison’s story on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversaw the adoption of 15 mustangs and six burros at Golden Hills Trail Rides and Resort, was an “informative story about a unique rural topic.” It placed second in the best story about rural life or agriculture category.

The Herald received 11 third-place honors:

• Best feature photo. Davison’s photo featured an elephant receiving a drink of water from a water hose while in town with the circus.

• Best news photo, McNiell. The image was the moments after a lash flood of Brushy Creek that wiped out a portion of Walnut Street.

• Best sports photo, McNiell. The image froze the moment a baseball hit HHS senior Ross Wells in the side.

• Best photo package, McNiell and Davison. The spread of images captured the moments surrounding the shootings in Tyrone.

• Community service. Gentry and Kathy Richardson were recognized for their work at the Lone Star Plaza Annex.

• Best sports news story or package, McNiell. The game story chronicled the HHS football team’s rally from a 22-point deficit with 10 minutes, 33 seconds remaining to beat St. James.

• Best coverage of rural life or agriculture, Davison. A trio of stories featuring Texas County Jail cook Joanna Combs, Houston resident Carol Dale and her miniature donkeys as well as Marcy Smith’s charitable survival kitchen in southeast Texas County.

• Best story about rural life or agriculture, Davison. The feature piece told the story of Joanna Combs, a seasoned professional cook who provides meals at the Texas County Jail.

• Best story about education. An article by McNiell focused on the new era at Houston Schools following the completion of new construction related to a $4 million bond issue.

• Best online newspaper or website, Herald staff.

• Best page design, McNiell.

The Herald was also recognized with honorable mention in these categories:

• Best feature photo, Davison. Powdered colors painted the sky of the photograph as participants in a color run celebrated at the end of the race.

• Best sports photo, McNiell. The image of an HHS football game captured a moment as Brad Wilber lost his helmet while making a tackle.

• Best news or feature special section. The full color tab “Houston Proud” provided a guide to the community.

• Best story about the outdoors, Davison. “Wildfire Warriors” told the story of dozens of Forest Service personnel deployed to other states to fight fires.

• Best sports news story or package, McNiell. The entry followed the path of HHS junior Abby Casper as she speed through districts and sectionals before earning all-state in two different sprints at state.

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