In Louisville recently for the spring conference of the Midwest Travel Writers Association, I experienced the thrill of winning a horse race at the venerable Churchill Downs, with its historic twin spires and a Southern charm that’s palpable.
Wearing a floppy hat and sipping strong mint juleps, I was inspired to bet on a horse named Rope in the third race because it recalled my long-ago Port Huron High School classmate, Skip Kota, who I nicknamed “Rope.” (My last name at the time was Stark so you can imagine what he called me).
It was a lucky hunch – actually, the horse was a 5:2 favorite and I won all of $6. But the excitement of cashing in a winning ticket – and the bragging rights that come with it – is priceless.
Later during the conference, I got lucky again in a different kind of horse race, winning twice in MTWA’s annual Mark Twain Awards, a travel writing and photography competition. In the parlance of horse racing, I “showed,” capturing third place in the photojournalism category for “Escape to Exciting Toronto,” which appeared last year in The Detroit News.
I also won an honorable mention in the “other” category for “Tons of fun for families on Disney cruise,” published in 2012 in Small Newspaper Group papers in the Quad Cities (Iowa and Illinois) and the Daily Journal in Kankakee, Il.
Of the latter story, the contest judge, Doug Ward, a University of Kansas journalism professor and former New York Times copy editor, wrote: “This article moved effortlessly through the highlights of a Disney cruise, combining solid reporting and personal anecdotes. It seemed to offer a fair appraisal of a trip that mixes pop culture and fantasy cruise. Lesser writers would have fawned or fallen into a trap of cheap Disney puns.”
Ward, I later found out, was named the 2012 Scripps Howard journalism teacher of the year and he included comments with all 35 Mark Twain winners — no small task considering that there were 170 entries. The awards were presented at the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville.
The nation’s oldest professional travel writing organization, Midwest Travel Writers Association has members in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and North Dakota.
I’m off this week to explore Ohio State Park lodges but plan to write more about Churchill Downs, horse racing and Louisville in a future travel blog