STF announces recipients of 2021 Jimmie and Suey Fong Yee Fellowship

By Nader Issa

The Asian American Journalists Association’s Sports Task Force is pleased to announce Cora Hall and Pranav Iyer as the recipients of the 2021 Jimmie & Suey Fong Yee Fellowship, generously funded by prominent sports agent Don Yee.

The $1,000 awards will go toward registration for the 2021 AAJA national convention later this year, and for the first time will cover expenses associated with reporting a story about Asians or Asian Americans in sports that the two recipients pitched as part of their applications. Hall and Iyer are the 10th and 11th overall recipients of the award.

“Thank you to the STF panel for their work on the 2021 Jimmy & Suey Fong Yee Fellowship,” Yee said. “Our family is very appreciative of STF’s efforts in going through each applicant’s pitch – and we had more applicants than ever to this point.” 

“There were many applicants who proved to be qualified,” STF chairman Josh Tolentino said. “AAJA Sports Task Force is extremely grateful for Don Yee’s continued support and his commitment in helping better diversify the sports journalism industry and also advocate for more Asian Americans in sports.”

The fellowship was established with Yee’s support to honor his parents. Yee is one of the NFL’s most respected talent agents, representing several star players and coaches, including Tom Brady, Jimmy Garappolo, Julian Edelman and Sean Payton. Yee said he was excited about both recipients after learning more about their backgrounds, scholarly accomplishments and story pitches.

“Cora’s application asked excellent questions; questions that typically go unanswered or ignored. Cora’s voice and perspective is one that I am excited to support,” Yee said.

“Pranav’s self-initiative shined through in his application. The website, AmaznHQ.com, founded by Pranav, is one-of-a-kind, and I am honored to help him further his career with this fellowship.”

In addition to attending the AAJA national convention toward the end of the summer, Hall and Iyer will work over the next few months — with the help and guidance of the Sports Task Force — to report and pursue the stories they pitched for the fellowship. 

Hall is set to graduate later this spring from Ferris State University in Michigan, where she serves as the editor-in-chief of her student newspaper, the Ferris State Torch. She’s interested in investigative sports reporting and said she enjoys the research that goes into those in-depth stories. Hall is also part of this year’s Sports Journalism Institute.

She will attend SJI, a journalism program created to help women and minorities into newsrooms, later this summer and intern at the Kansas City Star as part of the program.

For her story, Hall plans to examine the reasons behind the disproportionate lack of Asian Americans in collegiate sports. Her pitch was heavy on well-researched statistics that show a dramatic rise in Asian American populations in the United States hasn’t led to much increase in Asian American college athletes.

“It’s going to be a really valuable opportunity for me, more than I could really even say,” Hall said of the fellowship. “Because I came out of a really small school, and being able to have an opportunity this big and being able to work to get a story published in probably a bigger publication than I could have done on my own, having that connection is going to do a lot for me.

“It definitely means a lot to me because I come from a high school and a college that are not super diverse or don’t have a very big Asian community. So to find other people from the same culture, from the same background pursuing the same things as me, and to have mentors like that, it’s just another level of encouragement, mentorship that I’ve been looking for.”

Iyer is due to earn a master’s degree in journalism this spring at the University of Southern California. He graduated in May 2020 from Chapman University in California, where he played Division-III football.

While still in school in December 2019, Iyer launched AMAZN HQ, a publication dedicated to covering Asian American athletes, which he called his biggest reporting passion. Iyer said his identity and race play a big part in his work because, while he grew up in a predominantly Asian American community, not many around him dreamt of playing football or being a journalist. Then when he went to pursue his dream of playing football, he was not only the first Indian American teammate his peers ever had, but for some, he was the first Indian they’d ever met. That’s why Iyer was inspired by Yee’s work as an agent in the sports industry.

Jimmie and Suey Fong Yee illustration by Sally Deng

“Just hearing his story is inspirational,” Iyer said. “And he talks about the Asian American community and his passion for uplifting the community too, that is something that aligns directly with what I hope to do with my career.

“Those are really the types of stories that can help to inspire the community, can help to inspire that change — to give the younger generation inspiration but also to teach society that this change can happen and to see Asian American athletes in a different light.”

Iyer plans to report on an incoming wave of Asians and Asian Americans in professional sports that, while maybe not huge in numbers, looks as promising as ever and could shift the perception of Asian athletes.

Hall and Iyer both believe their introduction into the AAJA community will give them the support and connection they need to survive and grow in their profession.

Don Yee

“My identity plays a lot in the way I do my work and the way I view the industry as a whole,” Hall said. “That status quo as it is, reporters aren’t always thinking about these things. And it’s always the same people getting the same coverage and same voices being uplifted. And I’ve seen a lot of change in that and it’s really inspiring to me and influenced me over the last couple years and how I approach my work.”

“Seeing that representation and being able to connect with them and relate on certain struggles, certain upbringings and how to navigate through some of those, I think that is super important,” Iyer said. “Having that opportunity to form that community, to build these relationships, it’s so much bigger than just networking. I’m hoping it’s in a sense creating a family. …It’s organizations like these that allow people like me to pursue this past the dream.”

2021 Jimmie and Suey Fong Yee Fellowship judging panel
– Josh Tolentino, The Athletic
– Joon Lee, ESPN
– Nicole Yang, Boston Globe
– Michael Huang, ESPN
– Shehan Jeyarajah, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football

Josh Tolentino of Illinois State wins Jimmie and Suey Fong Yee Scholarship

Josh Tolentino, a senior at Illinois State University, is the inaugural winner of the The Jimmie & Suey Fong Yee Scholarship.

Don Yee
Don Yee

Don Yee, a founder and partner of Yee & Dubin Sports, created the scholarship to honor his parents and encourage a current college student to attend the 2016 AAJA convention in Las Vegas in August by helping to cover travel expenses.

“My parents really emphasized helping others,” Yee said in announcing the scholarship in March. ” The other inspiration is what journalists do every day in trying to communicate stories of importance – it’s important to me that we have good and strong journalists in society.

“I support the AAJA Sports Task Force because there are a lot of good people I’ve met who’ve overcome a lot to get where they are and because those same people are enthusiastic about telling a wider range of stories.”

Tolentino, the sports editor at his university’s newspaper, is now a sports intern at the Chicago Sun-Times. When informed of his selection by Justin Seiter of AAJA, Tolentino said he was encouraged and overjoyed.

I would also like to thank the selection committee for their consideration and vote of confidence in me. I promise to carry out and promote our mission to journalists around the country. I am deeply committed to my education and sports journalism career, and am one step closer to my goal with this scholarship.

I was nervous when I attended my first AAJA convention last year in San Francisco. Looking back, I laugh at how hesitant I was before the convention. I met so many motivational professionals and students alike at AAJA.

I appreciate the endless support of my many mentors and the AAJA Sports Task Force as I continue my studies at Illinois State University and my journey as an aspiring journalist. Carolyn Hong, Michael Huang, Sean Jensen, Leighton Ginn, Cary Chow and Howard Chen are just few of the many inspiring professionals who have helped me reach this point. I’m blessed to not only call them my mentors but also very good friends.

While writing a recent story on White Sox 2B Brett Lawrie, I discovered he had a very close relationship with his sister, Danielle, who is a softball analyst for PAC-12 Network and ESPN. I was able to use Hong as a resource in securing an interview with Danielle. Hong connected me with Danielle’s ESPN publicist, mentioning our AAJA relationship and I was able to successfully interview Lawrie.

Jensen has also been an awesome mentor and teacher. I was lucky enough to cover parts of the 2016 NFL Draft through my connection with Jensen, who put in a good word for me with NFL media relations. In Chicago, I conducted interviews with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the second overall pick, Carson Wentz. My attendance at the draft along with Jensen’s promotion of my stories helped boost my readership and brand.

Mr. Ginn continues to put forth immeasurable efforts in promoting all AAJA Sports Task Force members stories. Because of Ginn, many of my stories receive an increased amount of clicks and views from all over the world. I don’t think Ginn gets nearly the amount of recognition he deserves.

Huang’s relationship with me dates back to several months before my first AAJA convention. Until now, Huang and I maintain one of the best relationships I have with AAJA. Most recently, as I have begun my internship at the Sun-Times, Huang was promoted to become a lead editor for ESPN’s production in China. Huang, Chow and Chen have racked up many air flight miles throughout the past month covering the NBA playoffs. Despite his busy schedule, Huang has been able to still give me helpful tips and pointers during my internship. Huang’s well-developed career began in Chicago where he still has many connections within the city’s media outlets.

Justin Seiter has also been one of the most helpful individuals at AAJA. Seiter is always keeping me in the loop about AAJA scholarships, grant opportunities and whereabouts.

Being awarded the Don Yee Scholarship couldn’t have come at a better time. This summer, I am working as an unpaid sports intern at the Sun-Times.

Before the summer began, I had a competing internship offer, which was a full-time paid position, though the position was in page design and not sports. I chose to follow my heart and stick with my passion for sports. The experience has been invaluable and humbling but also a bit of a financial burden.

I am incredibly thankful for another opportunity to attend AAJA this August in Las Vegas, where I hope to build new networks and continue to develop the strong relationships I already have within AAJA.

In addition to working at the Sun-Times, I also serve as sports editor for The Vidette, ISU’s student-run newspaper. My involvement with The Vidette, Sun-Times and AAJA has all helped me become who I am today. My educational and professional pursuits would not be possible without generous support from individuals like Don Yee and the AAJA Sports Task Force.

As I enter my senior year, it is exciting knowing I’ll be able to attend another AAJA convention the week before school begins. I look to make the most of every opportunity and am proud to be a member of the AAJA Sports Task Force.

Sports Task Force chair Carolyn Hong of ESPN noted that Tolentino was among an “impressive pool of applicants.”

“The Sports Task Force is very pleased to offer Josh this opportunity,” Hong said. His drive and passion for sports journalism made him stand out.

“Thanks to Don Yee’s generosity, the STF is able to offer Josh this fantastic experience. I hope more students take advantage of the programs and networking that AAJA and the STF can offer to help them build a career in journalism.”