By Larry Barszewski

The Coastal Star captured five first-place awards and eight other commendations in the annual Florida Press Club competition.

The press club held the annual awards ceremony online Dec. 19. The Coastal Star won top awards in its class in five categories:

• Breaking news writing: the team of Ron Hayes, Jerry Lower, Tim Stepien and Rachel O’Hara and staff for their 2019 coverage of Hurricane Dorian.
• Commentary writing: Mary Kate Leming for columns about helping the Bahamas following its Hurricane Dorian devastation, gratitude in the time of COVID-19, and a Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office “snowstorm” in South Palm Beach over providing police services.
• Environmental news writing: Larry Keller for his story about Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s sea turtle crew.
• Government news writing: Steve Plunkett for a compilation of stories he wrote out of Boca Raton and Gulf Stream.
• Religion news writing: Hayes for his story about two Sisters Elizabeth — “Happy” and “Kind” — who came from Poland and teach at St. Vincent Ferrer Church and School.

In addition, the press club awarded second-place awards to Lower for sports feature photography and Joyce Reingold for health writing.

Third-place awards went to O’Hara and Lower for feature photo essay; to Rich Pollack for in-depth reporting; to Jan Engoren, Hap Erstein, Greg Stepanich and Sandra Schulman for arts news writing; to Mary Thurwachter for community news writing; to Mary Hladky for COVID-19 reporting; and to Brian Biggane for sports features writing.

The awards marked the first state journalism competition to honor coverage of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in Florida.

For nearly 70 years, the Florida Press Club, originally called the Florida Women’s Press Club, has honored the best in Florida journalism. Honorees have expanded into digital-only publications, but officials say what draws the judges’ eyes has remained consistent over the years: engaging storytelling.

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