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Competition With The Greatest: Podcast Winner Fact-Checked Family Lore

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Every family has that story that gets told a thousand time; swapped at family reunions, over holidays, birthday parties. Sometimes, the edges change, or details get added. But the shape of the story is always there. For NPR's Student Podcast Challenge, one of our two grand prizewinners decided to fact-check one of her family's go-to stories. Education reporter Elissa Nadworny got that story when she visited the winner on campus at Penn State University.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: For Mirriam Colvin, the family story she'd heard over and over again was about a fight. Her grandpa was usually the one that told it. But by the 20th time Mirriam heard it, it was kind of everyone's story.

MIRRIAM COLVIN: It's almost a game of telephone. You hear how it goes through people.

NADWORNY: Here's the general shape of it. A young farm boy from Indiana faces off in a fight against a 14-year-old kid from Kentucky. Mirriam didn't know if the story was real or how official this fight actually was.

COLVIN: I was thinking maybe it was just a little neighborhood brawl.

NADWORNY: She says, as a kid, her grandpa would always keep the same colorful details. That's what drew her in. The farm boy, the family friend - he doesn't win. He gets creamed.

COLVIN: I liked how he said his face looked like a bag of doorknobs. And that just - (laughter) I don't know. The little things like that I just loved.

NADWORNY: Each time she heard it, it might be told a little differently, but the ending was always the same. That scrawny 14-year-old who beat the farm boy to a pulp - his name was Cassius Clay. If we're not familiar with that name, you may know him by the name he changed to years later - Muhammad Ali, the greatest.

COLVIN: You hear about Muhammad Ali. You don't hear about all these crazy people that he's boxed along the way, like, to get where he's got to get.

NADWORNY: So Mirriam Colvin turned that story into her winning podcast entry.

COLVIN: I did fact-check them, and it checks out, guys (laughter).

NADWORNY: Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COLVIN: The underdog story is one that we're all very familiar with. But what happens if that underdog is so sure of himself, so confident and without any notions that he might be in over his head? Competition can often times be healthy, so maybe taking risks will leave you with one hell of a story, no matter the loss.

NADWORNY: Mirriam told us that in her research, she discovered the real main character.

COLVIN: I think we always thought that our grandpa was the one that fought. And then we found out, no, it was this guy named Crumb, and he was this tough guy.

NADWORNY: Here's more of the podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY: He was the tough guy, you know? He'd always beat the heck out of everybody.

NADWORNY: That's her grandfather, Larry. He remembers his good friends, the Hueber brothers, thinking Crummy Lynch was a good enough boxer, he should be famous.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY: They decided that they should take Crummy Lynch on the road. There's a place in Louisville that was called "Tomorrow's Champions."

NADWORNY: Mirriam actually found the TV footage from "Tomorrow's Champions," but unfortunately, there's no sound. And she interviewed Carl Hueber, her grandfather's friend who drove Crumb to the match, over video chat because of the pandemic. The tape's a bit scratchy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARL HUEBER: Our game plan was not to take him out the first round or two but on the third round, which is what - it has three rounds. And we should take him out on the third round because we need to get air time. We're going to be on TV.

NADWORNY: Of course, the match didn't go as planned. But Crumb - he did get some hits in; a feat to be proud of for sure. In the end, the true outcome was always the way Mirriam had heard it. Cassius crushed Crumb. Interviewing both Carl, who was there, and her grandfather, who'd simply heard the story for 50 years, did lead to some discrepancies. Like, what did Crummy Lynch wear?

COLVIN: Larry said that he came out from the dressing room and was in almost swimming trunks and a tank top, and that was his outfit. But Carl said he was wearing tights, and he was wearing military boots. And I think he was shirtless.

NADWORNY: Her grandfather, Larry, had been listening in to Carl's interview over video chat.

COLVIN: He kept being like, Carl, that was wrong. And I'd say, kind of, hey, guys; stop fighting (laughter). Let's keep it cool.

NADWORNY: In many ways, Mirriam's podcast is an oral history. Her grandfather Larry is getting older, and so is Carl Hueber. Now this family story can live on for many other families. Crummy Lynch, the farm boy fighter from Indiana - after Mirriam made the podcast, she discovered he's still alive, and he's listened to the episode. Mirriam - she's set to interview him next.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, State College, Pa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.