The Sumter Item staff won 14 awards, including four first places and sweeping first, second and third place in two categories at the South Carolina Press Association Awards Banquet held Saturday in Columbia.
The Sumter Item's biggest winner was photographer Keith Gedamke, who won five awards, including sweeping all three places in the feature photography category and finishing first and second in the pictorial photography category. Melanie Smith finished third in the pictorial photography category that completed The Sumter Item's sweep in that category. Smith is a page designer/copy editor who shoots photos in her spare time.
Jessica Stephens, a page designer/copy editor for The Sumter Item, won first place in feature page design portfolio, and the entire news staff won first place in reporting in depth for its coverage of Hurricane Matthew.
"What's significant about Jessica's win is that as our newspaper group takes on designing products for our other newspapers across the country, she has very few opportunities to work on The Sumter Item pages," said Rick Carpenter, managing editor of The Item. "For her to win in a very competitive field shines a light on her outstanding talent."
Carpenter also praised the team effort the editorial, photography and page design staffs went through with not only planning for Hurricane Matthew coverage but also executing the plan in a professional manner during a stressful time not only resulting from their coverage, but also because many of their own properties were affected. Most residents in the city were without electricity for at least two or three days and some much longer, he said.
Gedamke, a consistent winner during his 25-year career with The Sumter Item, died on Jan. 21 after a battle with lung cancer. During the awards ceremony, his awards were given posthumously but highlighted his many years of accomplishments and service.
Jack Osteen, editor and publisher of The Sumter Item, said his awards illustrate his commitment to the newspaper up until the week before he died.
"Whether he was going through chemo or just having another tough day, he still found comfort and took pride in producing some of his best work, even though he didn't know how much longer he had with us," Osteen said. "Keith is missed every day among the dedicated employees of The Sumter Item and his loyal community friends as well."
Besides Gedamke's second-place finishes, other second-place awards went to Adrienne Sarvis for beat reporting for her coverage of courts and cops reporting; Jim Hilley for breaking news reporting for his story about dogs killing goats at a Dalzell farm; Dennis Brunson for spot sports story for a story on Manning High School hiring former Sumter High School quarterback Keith West as head coach; and Justin Driggers in sports feature for a story about Lakewood High School football player Zaire Cain, who came back to play in 2016 after collapsing during practice a year earlier.
Besides Smith's third place award, Carpenter finished third in business beat reporting and in humorous photography.
The Sumter Item competes in the daily newspaper category with a maximum of 14,000 subscribers.