The Features sections of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram have been named among the nation’s best by the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors.

The AASFE’s 2010 Best Sections Contest judged features sections produced by newspapers across the country, then named the 15 with the best sections.

The top 15 newspapers are divided into three divisions based on circulation. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram was named one of the top five in the 90,000-and-under circulation category.

“Winning a prestigious award is always exciting, but the best thing about this award is that it shines a spotlight on the incredibly talented and dedicated folks in our features department,” said Executive Editor Scott Wasser. “I’m really thrilled that their hard work and creativity is being recognized on a national level.”

The newspaper submitted sections from its Food & Dining section, published Wednesday in The Portland Press Herald, and its Outdoors and Audience sections, both of which run weekly in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Judges said the sections were “impressively local” and that the staff was “great at finding stories that are uniquely Portland. They wisely use reader interaction to their advantage.”

In addition, staff writer Ray Routhier won an honorable mention in the “Short Feature” category in the AASFE’s 21st annual Excellence in Feature Writing Contest. Winners in that contest were announced Friday.

“To be named one of the top five features sections in the nation is a great honor and speaks to the professionalism and creativity exhibited by everyone on the features staff — writers, editors, designers, photographers and artists,” said Rod Harmon, deputy managing editor for features.

“We have made significant changes to our features sections over the past year to better serve our readers, and this award is testament to the hard work and pride that goes into those sections on a daily basis,” Harmon said.

Richard L. Connor, CEO of MaineToday Media and the editor and publisher of The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, said it is “wonderful to be recognized by peers for quality.”

“More importantly, though, we are seeing increased support from our readers and advertisers,” Connor said. “That is the type of award which rings truest for us.”

MaineToday Media publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel daily newspapers, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective websites.

Harmon said the award “is also indicative of the new life that has been breathed into the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram since their acquisition by MaineToday Media in June 2009.”

“Without the support and enthusiasm of Publisher Richard Connor, Executive Editor Scott Wasser and other members of the executive staff, earning the AASFE award would not have been possible,” he said.

The AASFE winners will be honored at the organization’s national conference in St. Petersburg in October.