The Rio Rancho Observer took home 10 awards from the 2021 New Mexico Press Association Better Newspapers Contest.

The NMPA awards banquet took place Saturday night at El Dorado Hotel and Spa in Santa Fe. Contestants are divided into daily and weekly divisions and then classes based on circulation numbers.

Gary Herron

Sports editor Gary Herron won first place for overall sports coverage among Weekly Class 1 newspapers.

“Gary Herron works hard at providing complete sports coverage for readers,” the judge wrote.

In addition, Herron won first place for obituary news for his obituary about Albuquerque Isotopes Vice President of Corporate Development Nick LoBue, who died of COVID-19 complications on Nov. 27, 2020.

“Excellent story, balancing professional and private life,” the judge wrote. “Fun photo, nice layout, strong headline. Quotes over the years were interesting and informative. I felt a loss for the community.”

Herron also took first place in Weekly Class 1 sports columns for his opinion piece about a Mike Trout baseball card selling for $3.9 million.

“One thing that stuck out to me that I loved about this column is that … was a topic that doesn’t get covered very often and can be important for uneducated readers,” the judge wrote.

Herron’s also received second-place finishes in sports photos, for a picture from a high school wrestling match, and in sports writing, for his piece about a former Albuquerque Dukes baseball player having quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

Argen Marie Duncan

The Observer swept the Weekly Class 1 editorials category, with an editorial by editor Argen Marie Duncan winning first place, and a joint effort by Duncan and then-staff writer Amy Byres taking second.

Duncan’s solo editorial expressed support of developing affordable housing in Rio Rancho.

“Nice reminder for many communities facing this very issue,” the judge wrote.

The co-written editorial was about a conflict with city government over a business article. Byres has since become the Sandoval Economic Alliance programs and marketing specialist.

Amy Byres

Duncan also won first place for best ongoing/continuing coverage for a group of articles about the release of the student who attempted to commit a school shooting at Cleveland High School in 2019.

“Very good coverage,” was the judge’s comment.

Current Observer staff writer Matt Hollinshead arrived only a week before the contest period ended, so he didn’t have entries from the Observer for this year’s contest.

However, his former colleagues at the Farmington Daily Times entered his sports story about Navajo Preparatory School girls basketball player Laila Charley recovering from a brain injury she suffered in an ATV accident. That piece took second place in the Daily Class 2 sports writing category.

Matt Hollinshead

Last but not least, Byres’ series about the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses and how they were trying to adjust scored a second-place award in the Weekly Class 1 series competition.

The Utah Press Association judged New Mexico entries this year.