Covering local athletes helps bring communities together

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was updated and republished in July 2021.

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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 reporting on them is more fun than it is work. Hanging out on the sidelines, taking pictures, talking to athletes and writing about what you saw? Not a bad deal for a diehard sports fan like myself.  

I first got into the business in 2001 as a sports reporter for the Hood River News, covering everything from high school football, basketball and baseball to windsurfing, kiteboarding and ski racing. 

Five years in the Gorge prepared me for a daily sports writing gig in Roseburg, Oregon, where football is a religion and state champion wrestlers grow on trees (kind of like Toppenish). 

A nine-year hiatus as a copy editor at the Yakima Herald-Republic made me long for a return to the sidelines — and I finally got the chance in 2016-17, when Yakima Valley Publishing asked me to cover six Lower Valley high schools for the Review-Independent. 

Before I knew it, I was taking state basketball photos on the floor of the SunDome and interviewing state champions again. 

That experience led to more sports-writing opportunities for this newspaper, which I have done now for three years. While I’m usually too busy to cover events and take photos like I used to, I always have time to call around to coaches so these athletes can get the coverage they deserve. 

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 programs like Toppenish wrestling or Selah boys basketball; others have been about lesser-known teams like White Swan baseball and Wapato girls wrestling.

Putting records and stats aside, I aim to shine a positive 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. 

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 Selah, 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 small-town journalism, seeing the weekly Review-Independent close a few years ago was a sad day. Thankfully, Publisher Adam Smith was able to rescue the paper and convert it to a monthly. 

Not long after, he started up this newspaper and, judging by the regular advertising that appears on these pages, the locals seem to be supporting it. 

I hope that continues because there are so many positive stories around here that need to be told. Small towns need a unifying voice, and newspapers like this help bring people together.

As we have seen in the industry over the past two decades, keeping newspapers afloat is no small challenge. Whether they have already closed, decreased production or are struggling to remain viable, newspapers are going the way of the dinosaurs. Fortunately, people like Adam are doing their best to keep these valuable publications going. 

I’m hoping the success of the Journal and Review-Independent means I will get to write about local high-school sports for years to come.

That, as they say, would be good news.

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