MONTPELIER - The Bennington Banner captured seven awards in the 2012-13 Vermont Press Association contest. The awards were distributed Thursday at the VPA annual meeting, held at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier.

"Small community newsrooms are often a training ground for young journalists just starting out. At the Banner, our staff is a mix of these folks along with several long-term news veterans. Our VPA winners this year include both newcomers and veterans, and I am very pleased to see them being recognized for their work," said Ed Woods, Vermont Group publisher for New England Newspapers Inc. and regional vice president of Digital First Media.

He added, "Editor Michelle Karas and her team should be extremely proud of these accomplishments."

Photographer Peter Crabtree took top honors in the General News Photo category a June 27, 2013, photo accompanying a story, "Bell sentenced in friend's death." The photo depicts Nicolas Bell, of Manchester, at his sentencing hearing after apologizing to the parents of Jeffrey R. Charbonneau for fatally shooting Charbonneau. Crabtree won second place in the Feature Photo category for a photo of musician Michael Placella standing outside the Martha Canfield Library in Arlington. Part of Crabtree's Hipstamatic portrait series, the photo, "Pausing for a portrait," was published in the April 27-28, 2013 edition.

Sports Editor Adam Samrov won a second place for Sportswriting - a category that called for the submission of four articles written during the contest period, Jan. 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. Samrov's submissions were: "Before 24, there was one: Early champions kept wrestling at Mount Anthony," Feb. 21, 2013; "Forfeits, canceled seasons causing headaches," Sept. 26, 2012; "Bahan TD caps thrilling MAU win: Patriots drive 60 yards in final 19 seconds to defeat Spaulding," Sept. 22, 2012; an. "A youth movement: For Arlington teen Olden Dwyer, age isn't a factor behind the wheel," Sept. 19, 2012.

County News Editor Mark Rondeau took third place for Best Editorial, a category that called for editorial submissions. Rondeau's selections were: "Penny foolish, pound stupid," June 7, 2013; "Shameful evisceration of the Voting Rights Act," June 28, 2013; and "Where's our democracy?" April 19, 2013.

Staff Writer Elizabeth Conkey won a third place for Rookie of the Year. This category required three article submissions for a staffer who was hired during the contest period. Conkey's articles were "Hairs to You, Bennington: Area woman brings traveling hair salon to patients in need," June 13, 2013; "A taste of the Upper Hudson Valley: Banner reporter Elizabeth Conkey explores the regional wineries of Upstate New York," June 27, 2013; and "Fighting on his own terms: Battling cancer: The strength of Isaac Sprague," July 9, 2013.

Neal Goswami, a former Banner staff writer and current reporter for the Vermont Press Bureau, garnered third place for Best Local Story for the following three stories: "Police investigate local business owner: No charges have been filed," Jan. 23, 2013; "Woman links businessman to sex ring," Feb. 6, 2013; and "Lyons pleads guilty: Four counts of soliciting prostitution," April 30, 2013.

Lastly, BenningtonBanner.com won third place for Outstanding Website.

Mike Donoghue, executive director of VPA, said "The contest is designed to showcase the best in Vermont journalism. The awards are coveted."

Donoghue worked in the Banner sports department while attending Saint Joseph College (now Southern Vermont College) in 1969-70. He explained that the VPA contest is open to the 11 daily and four dozen non-daily newspapers that circulate in the state. Dailies and non-dailies are judged separately with the exception of certain categories including Rookie of the Year.

All of the Banner's awards were for the daily newspaper category.

Also in the daily division, The Burlington Free Press captured 13 awards, including top prizes for General Excellence, Best Website, Tropical Storm Irene coverage, the Mavis Doyle Award for state government issues, Best Local Story, Best State Story, Best Feature Story and top photography for sports and features, according to a VPA release. Additionally, the Barre-based Times Argus won eight prizes, including one first place.

The release continued:

In the non-daily division, the Herald of Randolph was honored for eight awards, including four first places for John D. Donoghue Arts Writing, coverage of Tropical Storm Irene, Rookie of the Year, and Best General News Photo. Seven Days collected eight awards, including firsts for General Excellence, Best Website, Headline Writing and Best Feature story. The Addison Independent in Middlebury followed with six honors, and the Vermont Standard in Woodstock had five awards, including two firsts.

Also, Ken Squier and WDEV were honored with the Matthew Lyon Award, presented to a non-newspaper person who has fought for the First Amendment and the public's right to know the truth.

The New England Newspaper and Press Association secured out-of-state judges to review the various categories.

Contact Michelle Karas at mkaras@benningtonbanner.com; Follow her on Twitter @bannereditor.