Sports reporting is something I’ve always enjoyed. Covering events, writing features, talking to athletes and coaches — it’s a great job if you can get it.
Honestly, following high school teams and writing about them is more fun than it is work. But there aren’t many small-town sports writers like me around anymore. That’s why you’ve been seeing my byline in this newspaper a lot over the past few months.
I had covered many of the Lower Valley high school teams in 2016-17 when my company, Yakima Valley Publishing, owned the Review-Independent. Since I already knew many of the coaches and athletic directors, it only made sense for me to help out the new publisher, Adam Smith. So when he asked, I jumped at the chance.
While I’m usually too busy to cover events and take photos like I used to, I always have time to call around and talk to coaches so we can provide these athletes with the coverage they deserve.
For me, this sports-writing side gig is mostly a way to stay involved in the high school sports scene and build up kids in our local communities.
It doesn’t matter to me if the teams win state or if they only win a handful of games. What really draws me to this kind of work is bringing recognition to young people and building community pride.
Some of my stories have been about elite teams like the Toppenish High wrestling team or the Zillah High boys basketball team. Others have been about lesser-known programs like Top-Hi baseball and softball.
Unlike the daily newspaper, you don’t have to make the playoffs to be considered for these pages. Our goal is to promote the many positive things that are happening in the Lower Valley sports community, without regard to winning and losing.
Putting records and stats aside, we are able to shine a light on local kids and coaches to show them that their contributions on the field — or court, or track, or whatever — are making a difference in their community.
Something else I try to do with these stories is appeal to every reader, not just sports fans.
You might have a grandchild that plays sports, but you don’t want to get lost in all the statistics and sports-world jargon. Perhaps you know one of the athletes from church, or you work with one of their parents? Maybe you’re a middle-school parent whose child is considering playing for the high school?
These articles are for casual readers, just as much as they are for the diehard athletes, coaches and families who are invested day in and day out. We want you, the residents of Toppenish and Zillah, to care about what’s happening with your local teams. And, frankly, you aren’t going to find most of this information anywhere else.
For someone like me who is passionate about community journalism, seeing the weekly Review-Independent close a couple years ago was a sad day. Thankfully, Adam was able to rescue the paper and convert it to monthly (once a month is better than nothing, right?).
Judging by the regular advertising that appears on these pages, the community seems to be supporting it. I genuinely hope that support continues because there are so many positive stories in the Lower Valley that need to be told. Small towns need a unifying voice, and newspapers like the Review-Independent help bring people together.
As we have seen in the industry over the past 10-plus years, keeping newspapers afloat is no small challenge. Whether they have already closed (Central Washington Senior Times), decreased production (Sunnyside Sun) or are struggling to remain viable (Yakima Herald-Republic), newspapers are going the way of the dinosaurs.
Thankfully, people like Adam Smith are doing their best to keep these publications going. By all appearances, he’s doing better than just hanging on. (His other paper, the Selah Journal, is also doing quite well.)
That, as they say, is good news.
Hopefully, the success of the R-I and the Journal means I will get to write about teams from Toppenish, Zillah and Selah for the foreseeable future. Check back for more updates in the fall.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for my new community sports website, the Yakima Valley Sports Network, which I hope to launch later this year.
Not making any promises, but if everything goes according to plan, high school sports fans around the Valley are gonna love it. Stay tuned.