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USC undergrads hold center court with Hearn Scholarships

From left, School of Journalism Associate Director Bill Celis and broadcast journalist juniors James Santelli and Nicholas Burton with Chick Hearn’s widow Marge Hearn (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism students Nicholas Burton and James Santelli were featured on the big screen and at center court of Staples Center on Nov. 27 when they received the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarships during a halftime ceremony.

Juniors Burton and Santelli will receive $5,000 scholarships and the opportunity to interview for internships with Time Warner Cable Sportsnet. Bill Celis, associate director of the School of Journalism, presented the award as the students were introduced to the crowd attending the Los Angeles Lakers-Indiana Pacers game on Chick Hearn Night, which would have been the late broadcaster’s 96th birthday.

The undergraduates were interviewed during pregame coverage by 710 ESPN radio and Time Warner Cable.

Santelli, 20, from O’Hara Township, Pa., said being a play-by-play announcer has been a longtime dream.

“I could pull up projects from elementary school to show that even the 10-year-old me wanted to be an announcer,” Santelli said. “So winning an award with the name of one of the greatest play-by-play voices in sports is incredibly cool. I am proud of the work that I have done at USC Annenberg to get to this point.”

The setting of the award made winning it even more memorable, said Santelli, who is sports director at Neon Tommy, a sports anchor and reporter at Annenberg TV News (ATVN) and an on-air personality at KXSC 1560 AM.

“Not many people get to receive an award on the floor at Staples Center, so I count myself as very lucky,” he said.

Now in its 11th year, the Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship was established with support from the Hearn family, the Lakers and the legendary announcer’s legion of fans. In addition to his more than 40 years with the Lakers, Hearn announced USC Trojan football and basketball games from 1956 to 1961. In 1959, he was inducted into USC’s Skull and Dagger Society as the “Voice of Troy.”

Burton, also 20, is a native of San Francisco who works as sports director at ATVN and a sports writer for the Daily Trojan. He had never been to a Lakers game before that night. But he’s certainly familiar with Hearn’s legacy.

“I am truly honored to even have my name mentioned in the same sentence as someone like Chick Hearn. I don’t think there’s a single broadcaster in sports who has changed the way we talk about a game like Chick has for basketball,” Burton said. “My favorite aspect of sport is its stories, and when it came to storytelling, Hearn was in a class of his own.”

Since 2002, 15 USC Annenberg students have been named scholarship winners. The program aims to continue Hearn’s legacy by giving broadcast journalism students the opportunity to further develop their own voices.

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