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Glimpse of history paves way to bright future

by Ric Burrous

Transporting readers to the past has gone a long way toward expanding Elizabeth Cotter’s future.

Cotter was one of 31 students nominated for the 2015 Jim Murray Memorial Foundation Judges’ Choice Scholarship. Her essay on the dedication of IUPUI’s new Campus Recreation Outdoor Facility and joint celebration of the renowned Dust Bowl, located near the eventual home of the campus, earned her the $5,000 award in the national competition.

Elizabeth CotterElizabeth Cotter’s writing earned national acclaim.

Cotter, a journalism student and the sports editor for the online IUPUI publication The Campus Citizen, had to surpass more than 30 fellow journalism students from some of the most prestigious journalism schools and programs in the country to earn her honor.

But her ability to take readers back in time to the hard, dusty outdoor basketball court that spawned generations of Indianapolis hoops heroes was up to the challenge.

It didn’t matter whether those readers grew up living in westside neighborhoods near the famed Dust Bowl, north of University Tower and adjacent to the neighboring Lockefield Gardens apartments, played in the games, or merely watched as basketball legends tested their skills. Cotter tapped into the significance of those contests and what those contributions added to the legend that is Hoosier Hysteria.

In less than 1,000 words, she told the story of all-time basketball great Oscar "Big O" Robertson and his Crispus Attucks High School teammates who won back-to-back state championships and also captured the pride and passion of the families involved with those accomplishments and the dreams of youngsters who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Oscar and his Tiger teammates.

Her achievement impressed IUPUI journalism faculty member Malcolm Moran.

"Elizabeth’s essay was judged No. 1 among all entries, the first time a student from Indiana has earned that distinction," said Moran. "She beat out scholarship winners from Kansas, Missouri, Georgia, Northwestern and Penn State, the heavyweight division of college journalism."

While Cotter was able to shine a spotlight on a bit of Indianapolis’ historic past, she took giant steps toward her dream of a career as a sports reporter working the sidelines at NFL games.

"Sports has always been something that brings my family together," she said. "I learned about sports by watching with my dad and have been obsessed ever since. I was always good at writing, and to put those two things together is kind of the perfect combination."

Her passion for journalism and sports quickly connected with those affiliated with the Dust Bowl and its legacy.

"It is an incredible and inspiring story," she said. "It is about perseverance and strength through sports, specifically basketball. It’s even more powerful because it was a prominent spot that is now on our campus. Major sports history happened here, and it is great that the university decided to honor it."

Cotter is excited to have her name linked to Murray, a Pulitzer Prize recipient. "He was such an influence on sports journalism as a whole and is forever one of the greats," she said.