Alan Miller: Sports editor is newsroom leader, heart of annual Scholar Athlete program

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The 2019 Dispatch Scholar Athlete Awards, presented by Motorists Insurance Group, have been awarded and the special section honoring more than 200 bright, fit, conscientious young people has been published and delivered.

And Dispatch Sports Editor Ray Stein has had barely a moment to recover.

Stein is the heart and soul of the program. He has been part of it in one way or another since The Dispatch began honoring high school scholar athletes 38 years ago. He started by volunteering to take tickets at the awards banquet.

Across those 38 years, Stein has seen sponsors of the program, which now include Motorists, OhioHealth, Wolfe Associates, Atlas Butler, Battelle, the family of Capt. Warren B. Sneed, The Dispatch and Lamar Advertising, present $1.3 million in scholarships to central Ohio high school graduates.

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Now, Stein is the person who reminds and cajoles high school athletic directors to nominate one male and one female scholar athlete from each of their high schools. He gathers up all of the more than 200 nomination forms from the seven-county central Ohio region and organizes a panel of judges to pore over them.

That alone is a monumental task, in part because all of the students are worthy. In fact, Stein said, simply being nominated is an honor, given that the two nominees from each school are picked by their athletic directors because they are viewed as exceptional among dozens or even hundreds of possible choices from each school.

Each form tells the story of an inspiring young person — a scholar, an athlete, a leader and a community volunteer all wrapped into one.

These teenagers represent some of the best students in central Ohio classrooms. They also happen to be terrific athletes and all-around good people. And they represent our future, which is why I thoroughly enjoy attending the awards banquet each year.

“It’s always one of the highlights of my year,” Stein told the nominees at this year’s banquet on June 5 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. “I never fail to be impressed. Your drive, commitment, fearlessness, passion and community service are remarkable. You are 205 examples of pure awesomeness.”

After the scholarship winners are picked, Stein travels with a photographer to meet with each of them. While the photographer — Eric Albrecht this year — works to photograph each student in a way that represents their sports and other interests, Stein is talking with the students and their parents to learn about them and their families.

By the time he has helped hand out the awards each year, Stein said, he knows the students so well that “I feel like I have 20 more children I’m sending off to college.”

That he takes the time to get to know them makes the awards banquet all the more special, because Stein goes beyond their resumes when describing these talented young people to the audience. He is able to tell the parents, coaches, athletic directors and community leaders in the room who the students are as delightful human beings.

This year, the behind-the-scenes work for Stein was taking place while the Blue Jackets were in a playoff run and the Dispatch Sports team was ramping up coverage of high school tournament play. And just as the Scholar Athlete program hit a crescendo with the awards banquet, the special section was due to the pressroom the next day.

And right after that came The Memorial and all of the special coverage Stein’s team provides before, during and after the golf tournament in Dublin.

It was exhausting just to watch him and assistant sports editors Scott Davis and Brian Hofmann, along with all of the sports reporters and photographers, keep so many plates spinning at once.

For his leadership in the newsroom, his passion for good journalism and for the inspiring work Stein does here each day to bring you excellent sports coverage, we honored him earlier this year with one of the top awards presented annually to Dispatch staffers — The Michael F. Curtin Award for Lifetime Achievement.

The award is named for our former colleague, who went from reporting intern to president of the company before retiring from The Dispatch. In between, Curtin was a political reporter and editor known then, as he is now, for his integrity, strong moral compass, keen sense of fairness and endless commitment to doing the right thing for the people of central Ohio.

We see the same in Ray Stein and greatly appreciate what he does here for you.

Alan D. Miller is editor of The Dispatch.

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@dispatcheditor