Longtime Herald-Leader turf writer Maryjean Wall has been elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor.
Wall, who is retired from full-time work at the Herald-Leader but occasionally contributes freelance work, was elected along with the late Jim McKay this week.
Wall, a three-time Eclipse Award winner and the first woman to be accepted to the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, grew up in Canada before moving to Kentucky in 1966. She joined the Herald-Leader the following year and worked for the paper until 2008.
One of the first women to cover Thoroughbred racing on a regular basis, Wall won Eclipse Awards for her writing in 1980, 1997 and 1999. She is also a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize. Following her retirement from the newspaper, Wall completed her PhD in American History from the University of Kentucky. In 2012, she authored the book “How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders.” Wall’s second book, “Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel,” was published in 2014. She was also a contributor to the book “Bluegrass Renaissance: The History and Culture of Central Kentucky, 1792-1852.”
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Wall has also won the Walter Haight award, the Hervey Award for harness racing coverage and honors from the Associated Press Sports Editors, as well as awards from the American Horse Shows Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.
“There had been a few other ladies break into covering racing before Maryjean, but she was exceptional in the length of her career and breadth of knowledge she developed,” said Edward L. Bowen, chairman of the Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor Committee. “She embodied that exemplary combination of never falling into treating the subject as routine and never losing the urge to keep learning. That she persevered to earn her doctorate is illustrative of her pride in the professions of writing and history.”
McKay (1921-2008) served as host for the influential “Wide World of Sports,” which debuted in 1961.
McKay was one of the most visible and vibrant presences in horse racing media, as he covered numerous major events in the sport, including the Triple Crown series. His legacy in Thoroughbred racing was assured in 1986 when he founded the Maryland Million Day, a series of races designed to promote Maryland’s horse breeding and racing industry. The event was the first state-bred showcase in American racing and has led to numerous other states implementing similar programs. Throughout his decorated career, McKay provided on-air coverage and commentary for a wide range of events, including the National Football League, the Olympics, auto racing and the FIFA World Cup, among others. McKay received two Emmy Awards — one for news and one for sports — for his 1972 coverage of the summer Olympics Games in Germany, which included his reporting on the terror attack that resulted in the deaths of 11 Israeli Olympic team members. Overall, McKay won 13 Emmy Awards and was inducted into both the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
“Jim McKay was such a friendly individual that it would have been easy to forget that he was a celebrity were it not for how frequently he was starring in coverage of one sport or the other,” Bowen said. “He truly loved thoroughbred racing and was proud to be involved. I think the evolution of quality in televised sports coverage was hastened by Jim’s involvement.”
Previous selections to the Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor are Steven Crist (2010), Bill Nack (2010), Red Smith (2010), Charles Hatton (2010), Dr. Russ Harris (2011), Joe Palmer (2011), Jay Hovdey (2012), Whitney Tower (2012), Andrew Beyer (2013), Kent Hollingsworth (2013), George F. T. Ryall (2013), Jennie Rees (2014), Jim Murray (2014), Steve Haskin (2015) and Raleigh Burroughs (2015).
The National Museum of Racing’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor was established in 2010 to recognize individuals whose careers have been dedicated to, or substantially involved in, writing about Thoroughbred racing (non-fiction), and who distinguished themselves as journalists. The criteria has since been expanded to allow for consideration of broadcast and other forms of media.