Broadcast journalism students Claire Atkins and Alex Wilk were the center of attention Sunday night at Staples Center, where they accepted the 2011 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship in front of 18,997 fans at center court during halftime of the Lakers' 117-89 win against the Golden State Warriors.
Joining the students were Chick's widow, Marge, School of Journalism director Geneva Overholser, and seven previous scholarship winners from USC Annenberg. Prior to the game, the group mingled at the exclusive Chairman's Room before Atkins and Wilk left for an interview with Bill Macdonald that was shown on Fox Sports West's "Lakers Live" telecast.
"The entire night was surreal," said Atkins, a Nashville native and the first female Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship winner. "To be in front of thousands of passionate sports fans being honored for what I'm passionate about was unbelievable."
One of the highlights of Atkins' night was speaking with author and Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss.
"Any female who wants respect in the sports world admires and looks up to her," she said. "That was a 'wow' moment."
Wilk, a native Angeleno who grew up attending Lakers games or listening to Chick Hearn call them on television, also referred to the night as surreal.
"Tonight was definitely one of the highlights of my life," Wilk said. "Standing at midcourt with all of these fans that I share a connection with was unforgettable. I never in a million years thought I would hear my name on the loud speakers during a Lakers game."
Overholser, who stood next to students at half court for the third-consecutive Chick Hearn Night, said it is always one of her favorite events of the year.
"It's just a thrilling experience," she said. "These students are doing just what Chick Hearn would think they should be doing. It was extra special tonight to see the fine work the Chick Hearn Scholarship alumni are doing now."
The alumni in attendance included Zeus Ayter, the inaugural winner of the scholarship in the 2003-2004 academic year. Ayter is now a producer at Fox Sports.
"Winning the award was a great experience," he said. "Being interviewed for the pre-game show as a wide-eyed 21-year old was unbelievable."
Most of the students and alumni already knew each other through working at Annenberg TV News and various internships.
Jesse Aron , the winner in 2004-2005, said the Chick Hearn Scholarship directly led to his jobs with Fox Sports, including his current role as feature producer for "Lane Kiffin USC Football Weekly" (view recent clip).
"It seems like you're destined for great things if you win this award," Hall said.
The Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship was established in 2002 with support from the Hearn family, the Lakers and Chick’s many fans, in tribute to the legendary announcer. In addition to his more than 40 years with the Lakers, Hearn spent 1956-61 as the announcer for USC Trojan football and basketball games. In 1959, he was inducted into USC’s Skull and Dagger Society as the “Voice of Troy.”
The public may contribute to the fund to help deserving journalism students seeking careers in sports broadcasting. Donations may be sent to USC Annenberg Chick Hearn Fund, USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281.