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Medill junior wins national sports writing scholarship

Jasper Scherer (BSJ17) had not done much in journalism prior to enrolling in Medill in the fall of 2013. He hadn’t worked for his high school paper nor done any sort of reporting or writing internship. “I chose Medill because English was always my favorite subject in high school, and I thought it made sense to pursue something that would give me a chance to write for a living,” he said.

A lot has changed in two years. Scherer, a San Francisco native, now has a breadth of journalism experience under his belt, including serving as a writer and contributing editor for the sports website SB Nation’s baseball blog, interning at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, writing for Northwestern Athletic Communications and holding a number of leadership posts at North By Northwestern, including sports editor, senior editor and managing editor of the award-winning student website’s print magazine. This summer, Scherer added another prestigious journalism accomplishment to his burgeoning resume. He was named one of the six 2015 recipients of a $5,000 Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship, a national award for excellence in college sports writing.

Murray Memorial Scholars, as the award recipients are called, are nominated by the top 32 undergraduate journalism programs in the country and selected for their combination of academic achievement and journalistic promise. Each candidate also must submit a column that tells the story of an event, incident or person who figures prominently in the sports history of his or her university. Scherer, who is the first Northwestern student to win a Murray Scholarship in 14 years, chose to write about former NU quarterback Kain Colter’s effort to lead his teammates in an unsuccessful bid to form a players union.

“I thought writing about unionization was a no-brainer,” Scherer said. “It’s the most important sports-related topic at Northwestern, no question about it, and Colter has been right at the center of it.”

In his essay, Scherer traced the arc of Colter’s football career, recounting the gaudy stats the diminutive signal caller’s managed to rack up in spite of his relatively small stature. But it is not Colter’s passing efficiency or his rushing yards that will etch his name in the history books, Scherer maintained. It is Colter’s fight for union representation that will be the quarterback’s enduring legacy. Scherer said that Colter’s passionate campaign, which garnered widespread media attention, will be seen as a turning point in college athletics, in spite of the National Labor Relations Board’s decision not to sanction the NU player’s union.

“It’s kind of amazing to think about how long college sports have been around and that nobody did anything like what Kain did until he had the courage to stand up and actually do something,” Scherer said. “To me, that’s a worthwhile topic.” 

Winning the Murray scholarship at the midway point in his college career is one of the many highlights of his time at Northwestern, Scherer said. But the greatest thing about his Medill experience has been perfecting his craft in such a stimulating environment. “The highlight of Medill so far has been the times I get to work with and learn from other student journalists, both through NBN and my journalism classes,” he said. “Medill has a ton of great professors and resources, but there’s nothing like going out and doing actual reporting and having peers around you who challenge you to do your best work.”

Scherer is scheduled to work with the Medill Justice Project in the fall and will do his journalism residency in magazine in the fall of his senior year. Beyond Medill, he said he has no clear vision of what path his career may take.

“I’m honestly not sure what I want to do in the future,” he said. “But I am excited to explore investigative journalism this fall with the Medill Justice Project.”

He also is excited to be Medill’s first Murray Scholar since 2001. Scherer, along with the five other 2015 scholarship recipients, will be honored at a ceremony in Los Angeles on Oct. 24.

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship is named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer whose career spanned more than 50 years, 37 of which were spent at the Los Angeles Times. In addition to the Pulitzer, Murray's many accolades included 14 Sports Writer of the Year awards from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and the Red Smith Award, which is America’s most prestigious sports writing honor.