By Gina Mizell
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Brooke Pryor expected to arrive at AWSM’s 2013 convention as an internship/scholarship recipient and then spend the majority of the weekend observing rather than interacting with the professionals in attendance.
By the convention’s final day, Pryor had engaged in multiple conversations with AWSM’s first president, USA Today columnist Christine Brennan. And when Brennan stood to be honored as a former recipient of AWSM’s Mary Garber Pioneer Award, she locked eyes with Pryor.
Then Brennan winked.
“This is the coolest moment of my life,” Pryor thought to herself. “Christine Brennan just winked at me from across the room.”
That’s just one of the memories Pryor, a University of North Carolina junior who received the AWSM scholarship named in honor of Brennan’s mother, Betty, and the rest of the 2013 internship/scholarship class has taken away from this summer’s convention. Pryor (Colorado Springs Gazette) joins Marquette junior Sarah Barshop (Leah Siegel Scholarship, ESPN), Missouri junior Caitlin Swieca (Kaufman Scholarship, Denver Post), Yale junior Maria Guardado (Mike Roberts Memorial Scholarship, Sports Illustrated), recent Wisconsin graduate Kelly Erickson (Jim Brennan Scholarship, MLB.com) and recent Arizona State graduate Megan Stewart (Katie Jackson Morrison Memorial Scholarship) as this year’s winners.
This year’s group of aspiring female sports journalists was surrounded by a particularly elite group of professionals from the past and present, as the 2013 event celebrated 25 years of AWSM.
And the interns weren’t just networking. They were connecting.
“For some reason, I expected that, as an intern I would just kind of fade into the background and watch and observe,” Pryor said. “Once I got here, I immediately realized, ‘Oh, you’re supposed to meet people. You’re supposed to talk to people.’
“It was kind of a shock at first, because I’m outgoing, but I had to be outgoing times 10 and get out of (my) comfort zone. But once I started doing that, I was 100 percent comfortable and I loved it. It exceeded my expectations — thinking you’re going to be quiet and sitting at a table, and doing the exact opposite of that.”
The opening panel featuring AWSM’s founders — Nancy Cooney, Susan Fornoff, Michele Himmelberg and Kristin Huckshorn — and the Pioneer Luncheon honoring Lisa Olson were highlights for the internship/scholarship winners. Swieca said she even got teary-eyed listening to Olson’s emotional speech about overcoming her incident of being harassed by players in the New England Patriots’ locker room and the support AWSM provided during that time.
“It’s just been so uplifting,” Swieca said. “We’re lucky being in this generation. Obviously, when you decide to go into this as a woman, you think about that there’s not that many women (in this field) and there’s obviously still issues with sexism and that type of thing. But it’s true that we’ve had the road paved for us.
“To meet all these women who came into this not having any road map, it made me realize how lucky that we have this organization and this opportunity.”
After the convention, the winners returned to their internships, where their duties range from covering MLB games to assisting with ESPN SportsCenter highlights to fact-checking Sports Illustrated stories.
But the weekend made Barshop realize the primary reason many come back to AWSM’s convention year after year.
“I was blown away by how much everyone loves each other,” she said. “There’s always competition, but the thing I will take away from this convention is there doesn’t have to be. Women can lift other women up. You can support them and you can help somebody else, and that doesn’t mean you’re pushing yourself down.
“I was just in awe of how much everyone supports each other. That’s the reason everyone comes back for the 25th annual convention. That’s insane. People who were friends then are friends now. How cool would that be if in 25 years we’re all back and we’re all successful? I think that would be awesome.”