Joe Palme and Erskine Fire

In this file photo, CHP Officer Kelley Walker wrestles with 72-year-old Joe Palme after Palme refused to stop at a checkpoint while returning to his Squirrel Valley property following the Erskine Fire. With this entry, photographer Felix Adamo won first place in the News Photo category at the 29th annual Gruner Awards in Fresno Thursday.

FELIX ADAMO / The Californian

The Californian won 10 awards, including eight first-place honors, Saturday at the California Newspaper Publishers Association's annual contest, the premier competition for newspapers in the state.

The paper's sports coverage led the way, winning five of The Californian's awards at a luncheon in Santa Monica that drew hundreds of print-media representatives, ranging from college newspapers to media giants like the Los Angeles Times.

The Californian's 56-page 2016 BVarsity Football Preview was recognized, as was Sports Editor Zach Ewing for his coverage of Bakersfield High's section football championship game and his feature on Blaze player Justin Seager.

In a clean sweep of the sports feature story category for the paper, veteran reporter Jeff Evans took second place for his profile of legendary North High football coach Turk Eliades, who died later in the year.

In the sports feature photo category, photographer Henry Barrios finished second for his shot of a Bakersfield Christian High School team.

The Californian's watchdog columnist Lois Henry, a past CNPA winner, took top honors again in the best columns category for two pieces, one demanding greater transparency and accountability of the Kern County Board of Supervisors and the other a challenge to her Clovis high school to stop targeting students for violating an outdated dress code. 

Senior editors Jennifer Self and Robert Price won first place in the best writing category for their obituary of country music legend and Bakersfield native Merle Haggard, who died on his 79th birthday on April 6, 2016.

"As fans ourselves, it was incredibly difficult to put aside our feelings and desire to head to the Alley Cat to crank Merle on the jukebox nonstop," Self said. "But Merle's death was more than a loss to country music. His contribution to the cultural identity of this city and the valley is incalculable. We were humbled by the task of putting into words what he meant to all of us, and we hope we did that."

Team coverage of the devastating Erskine Fire in the Kern River Valley last summer earned The Californian's news staff first place in the category of environmental reporting: drought/fire.

Photographer Felix Adamo captured the tension and desperation wrought by the deadly blaze in his photo of an altercation between a CHP officer and a man who refused to stop at a checkpoint in his attempt to return home. The stunning image took first place place in the news photo category.

The staff also took top honors in the special section category for "The Story of Us," an Aug. 6 commemorative edition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of Kern County. The project was coordinated by senior editors Christine Bedell and Jennifer Self and was designed by TBC Media Art Director Glenn Hammett. 

"It was such fun digging through the history of this news-rich, colorful county," said lead editor Bedell. "I hope subscribers got as much joy out of reading it as we did in putting it together."

Ewing noted the annual BVarsity football guide, one of the paper's most anticipated editions of the year, has been recognized at the CNPA's Better Newspapers Contest four times in the last six years. The editor praised the reporters, photographers and designers who had a hand in its success.

"Awards aren't why we do our jobs, but it's nice to be recognized for our annual football preview, which is a labor of love, and for three stories that were only possible because of the rich sports tradition in Bakersfield."

The Californian competed in a category that includes daily papers with between 35,001 and 150,000 subscribers. Other newspapers that did well in the same category were The Fresno Bee and The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat.

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