BIG SKY -- Seven 406mtsports.com staff members won writing awards in the 2019 Better Newspaper Contest, the Montana Newspaper Association announced at its annual awards banquet Saturday night.

Staff won two awards for first place, three for second and two for third for their work in the state's largest circulation category of daily newspapers. In addition, editor Perry Backus of the Ravalli Republic -- which prints three times a week in the Bitterroot Valley -- took first place in Sports Features for his poignant story on Jake "Sunshine" Sanders, a Darby football player who was battling non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and died before the story was finished. 

The 406mtsports.com team is comprised of sports reporters from the Billings Gazette, Missoulian, Montana Standard in Butte, Helena Independent Record and Ravalli Republic. 

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Missoulian deputy sports editor and columnist Bill Speltz took first place in Sports and Outdoor Column Writing for "Missoula hits back at ugliness", about how his city responded when a Special Olympian was assaulted. Taking first place for Features was 406mtsports.com executive sports editor Jeff Welsch for "No Surrender", a story on former Hardin basketball standout Sharon LaForge -- the subject of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book "Counting Coup".

Earning second place for Sports Story was Kyle Hansen of The Gazette (now with the Missoulian) for "Redemption Tour", a look at former Billings West standout Dylan Donahue's quest to get back to the NFL after some off-field challenges. Second place in Sports Features went to former Missoulian reporter Amie Just for her profile on former Montana football player Gage Smith and his decision to walk away from football due to concussions. Another second went to Kyle Houghtaling of the Republic in Sports Features for his piece on Stevensville wrestler Devin McLane, who wrestles competitively despite not having the use of his arms. 

In third place for Sports Features was former Montana Standard reporter Chance Cook, who revisited Butte's fleeting moment at the center of the U.S. speedskating world. Also in third, for Sports and Outdoor Column Writing, was Joe Kusek for his look at the Rocky Mountain College women's basketball team's ascension to the NAIA tournament. 

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