Long Beach wrestler Dunia Sibomana poses with some of his medals...

Long Beach wrestler Dunia Sibomana poses with some of his medals and his Congolese flag on Feb. 17, 2022. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Newsday’s Gregg Sarra has been named the 2022 winner of the Award for Excellence in Coverage of Youth Sports, given by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

Sarra won for his series of stories on Long Beach High School star wrestler Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez, who was disfigured in a chimpanzee attack as a child before becoming a state champion.

The series also included a video documentary chronicling Sibomana-Rodriguez's journey. Sarra was the reporter and narrator, Susan Yale and Jeff Basinger were the video editors, and Reece Williams, Bill Perlman, Tom Ferrara and John Williams were the videographers.

Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez almost died in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now he's a high school wrestling star in Long Beach. See the documentary that explains his journey. Credit: Newsday; Rodriguez family

"It was an expertly told, uplifting tale that captured Dunia’s incredible joy in living and wrestling, and the great relationship he has with his adoptive family and team," said John Affleck, the head of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University.

Sibomana-Rodriguez was 6 years old when he was attacked in a national park in Central Africa. He survived but suffered horrific, disfiguring injuries to his lips and face. Sibomana-Rodriguez came to the United States in 2015 to undergo a series of reconstructive facial surgeries. He lived with three host families before being officially adopted by the Rodriguez family on Feb. 2, 2022.

Sibomana-Rodriguez became the 2022 Nassau County wrestling champion at 102 pounds as an eighth-grader and qualified for the New York state high school championships in Division I, the largest of four classifications. Sibomana-Rodriguez won the state title about two weeks later.

"I am honored to win the Award for Excellence in Coverage of Youth Sports by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University, " Sarra said. "I enjoyed telling the Dunia Sibomana story through our multiple media platforms at Newsday. The more comfortable Dunia felt, the more he opened up about his life and its challenges. The story tells an incredible tale of courage, strength and perseverance."

The John Curley Center for Sports Journalism created the Award for Excellence in Coverage of Youth Sports in 2009. The award honors work by daily and weekly newspapers, local and national television news broadcasts, national news organizations, and multimedia and online news outlets.

Newsday previously won the award in 2015 for “Hard Knocks,” a series written by Jim Baumbach that focused on helmet safety for student-athletes playing high school football on Long Island.

"I'm extremely proud that Newsday is now a two-time winner of this incredible award," said Hank Winnicki, the assistant managing editor for sports. "It's a testament to our commitment to covering youth sports on Long Island, and no one does that better than Gregg Sarra and our high school sports staff."

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