This was a winning photo in the Orange County Press Club awards in June 2023. San Clemente High School graduate Natalie Villafana is surprised by her dad, Samuel Villafana, who she throught was away on deployment, during the school’s graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 2, 2022. Jeff Antenore/For CUSD Insider

CUSD Insider takes top awards in annual OC Press Club journalism contest

By CUSD Insider Staff

Writers and photographers for CUSD Insider rose to the top of the class in the annual Orange County Press Club Awards.

On Thursday, June 15, CUSD Insider gathered two first place awards at the 2023 Excellence in Journalism Contest, in another year of strong recognition of the work that appeared in the Capistrano Unified School District online publication.

Cataloging celebrations, important news issues, and inspiring people, the Insider tells stories about what makes CUSD unique and special.

Greg Mellen won a first-place award and two second-place awards for works published in 2022, while photographer Jeff Antenore was recognized with a first-place award.

Mellen won first place in the Best Feature category for a story on Stephanie Hu, a former Tesoro High student who turned the pain she experienced as a victim of racism into a movement that included a conference for women of color.

Judges of the story wrote, “Poignant story. Strong lede sets the stage for a moving narrative. The article made me want to learn more about the project.”

Mellen also took second place for a story about inspirational San Juan Hills Basketball Coach Jason Efstathiou, who, while battling the debilitating effects of diabetic neuropathy, led the Stallions to their first Southern Section title and earned Coach of the Year honors.

“Another strong lede that made me want to keep reading and learn more about the coach’s story,” the judges wrote of the story.

Another second-place award that featured CUSD was in Best News Feature for coverage of the Orange County School Safety Summit, presented by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney, and the Probation Department. It was published on

Headlined “School Safety Summit teaches Orange County districts how to combat dangers to students,” the story explored the myriad potential threats faced by students and staff at area schools and the ways law enforcement, school district personnel and mental health professionals collaborate.

Antenore won first place in Best Photo when he caught a special moment at the San Clemente High graduation where graduate Natalie Villafana was surprised by her dad, Marine Mstr. Sgt.Samuel Villafana, who she thought was away on deployment.

Judges said, “Wonderful photo showing a father’s pride and a daughter’s happiness at her father’s return. Better than the running-into-arms type of photo.”

The latest haul brings the total number of press club awards to eight in the past three years for the innovative on-line publication. 

The Orange County Press Club annual contest recognizes outstanding Orange County journalism from stories published in the previous calendar year.

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