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The two stories by Ben Montgomery in 2013 the Society for Features Journalism said were really good

19

June

The Times did well in the contest. John Woodrow Cox dominated the short feature category. The Bounty story got some recognition. And Ben's name popped up twice too.

1. From March 23, the second-best arts and entertainment feature of the year in the biggest papers in the country, his profile of the comedian Gallagher:

Gallagher might die tonight.

Did you know he is still alive?

He is. Pretty much. Surprise.

He's scheduled to make one last appearance in the Tampa Bay area, the place he thinks of as home, the locale that launched him on a three-decade-plus comedy career highlighted by 14 specials on Showtime. He's back home now, and due on stage at the Capitol Theater in Clearwater tonight, if he makes it. If.

And there's nothing funny about that. The man is 66 and says he feels good, but he felt good every time he had a heart attack, and he's had four. One was so severe doctors put Gallagher in a medically induced coma for several days, and when he came out he announced he was retiring, hanging up the Sledge-O-Matic after one last swing.

These are difficult times for Gallagher, and not exclusively due to his bad heart. He says he hasn't talked to his little brother, Ron, in 20 years, not since Gallagher sued Ron for trademark infringement for mimicking his act and billing himself as Gallagher II. What's more, the media have labeled Gallagher a bigot, a racist, a homophobe, a crazy uncle, a tea party panderer. Lesser comics have fun at his expense. One of the most recognizable comedians of the 1980s told a radio audience last year that he was broke and living in Super 8 motels and scavenging on roadsides.

Difficult times for the sad clown, indeed. Unless it's all part of the shtick.

Unless Gallagher is trolling America. Read it all.

2. From May 29, the third-best narrative of the year in the biggest papers in the country, his story on Vic Prinzi at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna:

In February 1961, Vic Prinzi pulled into the visitors' lot at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna and sat in the car collecting his thoughts. He was apprehensive.

"Why am I here?" he wondered.

He could still turn around, head back to Tallahassee and send word that he had changed his mind. Prinzi was 25 and self-confident.

His years as Florida State's quarterback would eventually land him in the school's hall of fame.

He'd played with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, but got cut, and so he came back to Florida.

A friend told him about the opening at the state's oldest reform school. With more than 800 boys between 7 and 18, it had grown to one of the largest homes for troubled kids in the country.

The job seemed custom-made for Prinzi, who earned a degree in juvenile delinquency with a focus on criminal psychology. But his anxiety about working with young criminals, teaching them athletics no less, had sneaked up on him.

He introduced himself to the school's superintendent, David Walters, who gave Prinzi a nickel tour. The 1,400-acre campus was stunning. Stately cottages sat upon rolling green hills covered in tall pines.

Walters introduced Prinzi to his assistant superintendent, a stout man with a sandy crew cut. The two administrators told Prinzi the school operated on a ranking system based on behavior: Grub, Explorer, Pioneer, Pilot and Ace. Aces got privileges, but Grubs faced strict discipline, including solitary confinement.

"We're going to rehab these kids if it breaks every bone in their bodies," the assistant superintendent told Prinzi.

The men told Prinzi that they'd had trouble lately with a rash of runaways. When one of the boys escaped, the men on campus had to track him down in the swamps and woods surrounding the school. Occasionally the administration called on the help of prisoners from nearby Apalachee Correctional Institution.

Prinzi was not impressed by the school staff; he got the sense that they were there just to collect a paycheck. He was dismayed, too, when he saw a pack of boys loafing across campus. They had duck's ass haircuts and wore sloppy state clothes: wrinkled white shirts, blue jeans and scuffed Brogan boots.

"This is what I'm going to have to make a football team out of?" he wondered. Read it all.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2014 12:11pm]

    

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