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Chelsea Prescott is ready to make a dash for cash. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Dear Coupeville admins and coaches … the Seattle Mariners want to give you money.

High schools across Washington and Oregon have until December 18 to apply for the Mariners Care Equipment Donation Grant, which aims to “make high school baseball and softball more equitable.”

The big league squad will issue ten grants of $5,000 apiece, and this is the fourth year for the program.

Schools which raked in the sweet, sweet cheddar in 2020 included Toppenish, Bridgeport, Juanita, and Coupeville’s new Northwest 2B/1B League opponent, Darrington.

This time around, applicants will be notified of which programs are being helped by January 15, 2021.

Winning teams will receive funds by the end of February, 2021.

So, where should CHS coaches and/or Athletic Director Willie Smith go to apply, you ask?

Right here:

Mariners Care Equipment Donation Grant | Seattle Mariners (mlb.com)

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Coupeville High School girls hoops coach Scott Fox (back) swaps tales with Whidbey News-Times Sports Editor Jim Waller. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Waller discusses strategy with Wolf hoops guru David King.

The elder statesman of Whidbey Island sports journalism is leaving the building.

And the state.

Jim Waller, my Oak Harbor High School journalism teacher, and the man most responsible for my writing “career,” retires in two weeks.

His last day at the Whidbey News-Times is December 18.

After that, the lifelong Whidbey resident and his wife are moving to North Carolina to be closer to their sons and their families.

Waller has been at the core of Whidbey Island sports since his birth, as a player, teacher, coach, and writer.

He was born into the life, one of the sons of revered local coach Mert Waller, who led four Coupeville High School sports programs (football, basketball, baseball, and track), before moving to similar positions in Oak Harbor.

Jim Waller was a standout prep athlete at OHHS, who returned to teach and coach multiple sports at his alma mater.

Of the two people actively writing about sports on Whidbey, he is the only one to be a member of a real Hall of Fame, honored in 2001 by the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Waller led the OHHS baseball program for 30 years, taking the Wildcats to the Class 3A state title game.

A graduate of the University of Washington, he was in his second go-round with Whidbey’s newspapers.

Waller first wrote for the News-Times as a youngster, then returned to the post after retiring from the Oak Harbor School District.

As he prepares to depart, several Coupeville coaches, past and present, offered their thoughts on the easy-going legend.

 

Mike Etzell:

He is quality, character, with a twinkle in his eye, and one of the constants on fields/courts across Whidbey.

 

Scott Fox:

I was fortunate to meet Jim this past year as it was my first year as a head coach and little did I know it would be his last as a sports writer. 

The one word that comes to mind when I think of Jim is dedication. Jim is the guy who loved what he did and it showed.

We had some great conversations about Coupeville sports and how they have evolved throughout the years.

His enthusiasm for local sports and working with kids really comes through starting with his coaching for many years to now covering them as a newspaper journalist.

He always approached his job as a sports writer with the utmost professionalism and I really enjoyed our post game conversations.

We are losing a local legend in the sports world but at the same time I am happy for him in retirement and being able to spend more time with his family.

He is a great guy and will be truly missed!

 

David King:

I’ve known Jim since 1982 or 1983 when he was teaching and coaching at Oak Harbor. At the time I was just finishing high school.

Sadly I didn’t play baseball for him.

I really got to know Jim on the basketball court.

Back in the ’80s and into the ’90s the teachers from Oak Harbor would get together on Sunday evenings and play. I was lucky enough to have an invite and played.

Back then on the basketball court, Jim wasn’t flashy, but he seemed to always make the right plays or be in the right spot.

What I should have realized then, but came to realize later in life, Jim was a student of the game.

That goes for basketball, baseball and softball. I’m sure other sports as well.

Fast forward to my time coaching softball and basketball. During this time Jim was the sports guy for the Whidbey News-Times.

Many times after a home game, we would talk stats and sports article material that he could use.

Then he and I would talk the in-depth details.

I could sit and talk these details with Jim any day of the week. The X’s and O’s.

He was able to see things a normal fan or parent may not recognize.

Early on, he wouldn’t push his thoughts, but asked questions based off of what he saw during the games.

As the years went on, the conversations evolved, more open and we actually would talk strategies and Jim would share his experiences and still ask why certain things happened like they did.

Because he is a student of the game and a successful coach, these conversations helped me as a coach.

I believe he and I would see the same things, his experiences I could relate to.

And I feel like I was doing the right things as a coach and for the teams based off of our conversations.

After Amy and I got out of coaching I found I missed the conversations and interaction with Jim.

He is someone I respect and I’m grateful for the friendship that evolved over time.

 

Brad Sherman:

I’ve always really enjoyed getting to chat with Jim after games. 

He knows the game well, knows our athletes, and is really skilled in the way he recaps games.

I think the sports community in Coupeville is very lucky to have had Jim covering our teams. 

Over the years he’s taken the time to spotlight certain kids who have worked extremely hard to get where they are, or community members that have given so much to our programs.

He truly is a class act. We will certainly miss him!

With that said, I wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement, and hope to still see him up in the stands at a few games in the future.  

 

Willie Smith:

Personally, as a baseball coach, there were few coaches that I ever really strived to have a “Your program is going in the right direction or your kids really seem to understand the game and play hard every single day” type of a comment from, and, along with Stan Taloff, Jim was always one of those guys.

His knowledge of the game and his willingness to share, first while he was coaching, then as a reporter, was always welcomed by me.

It was great listening to his stories and experiences in his 30+ years career and I certainly appreciated the moments that he and I just got to visit about everything around athletics.

I was also very fortunate to have him open up the summer baseball program to the Coupeville kids, which, for me, was a bit of an arrival moment for me in the world of coaching.

Both of my sons got to play for Jim and they had such a positive, fun experience with him and his players (and I got to just sit back and just watch them play, which was really fun!).

Jim has always been a man of high integrity, has had great insight, truly loved coaching and being around the players and I would hope that when I retire, I can be half of what Jim has been!

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Teagan Calkins (left) and Mia Farris celebrate during a softball win. (Jackie Saia photo)

Onward and upward.

After losing a season to COVID-19, Central Whidbey Little League is moving forward with plans to play in 2021.

The league issued the following letter Thursday morning:

 

Dear CWLL Families!

As we begin planning for the 2021 baseball and softball season, we are reaching out to you to advise that Little League International and our local District 11 have requested that all leagues begin preparations for the 2021 season, subject to current COVID-19 safety protocols.

Accordingly, CWLL is planning our 2021 season, that will include:

T-Ball, Rookies and Minors: 4-11 years of age
Majors: 10-12
Juniors: 13 -15

Players will be placed in a division age-appropriate and commensurate to their skill level, subject to our Player Agent’s approval.

We anticipate commencing with sign-ups early January, 2021.

The district has proposed the following schedule, again subject to the COVID-19 situation and the availability of fields in other District 11 leagues:

T-Ball, Rookies and Minors: Practices beginning early March, with games starting the end of March, and ending the latter part of May.

Majors: Practices beginning mid-late March, with games starting early April, and ending the end of May.

Juniors: Practices beginning the end of May, with games starting the second week of June, and ending July 10-11.

As with all volunteer organizations, CWLL’s growth, much less its continuation, is solely dependent on the number of volunteers engaged in its activities.

CWLL finds itself in a unique and challenging position at this time.

The vast majority of our board, volunteers, umpires, and some of our coaches are presently serving their last year of participation.

Most have kids or grandkids that are ‘aging out’ after the 2021 season.

In our opinion, it is imperative if CWLL is to continue, we need parents, grandparents, family members and/or your neighbors to join our league.

To learn how we operate and how we, you, can continue offering all the kids of Central Whidbey the opportunity to play little league baseball and softball and make lifelong memories!

Regardless of your level of knowledge, CWLL will teach you … coaching, umpiring, concession stand, scorekeeping, administrative, fundraising.

Please consider helping us out so our kids can enjoy this beautiful game for years to come!

If you have any questions or have any interest in ensuring CWLL’s continuation, we can be reached at centralwhidbeyll@gmail.com

On behalf of the 2020/2021 CWLL Board Of Directors, thank you for your consideration.

Regards,

Gordon D. McMillan
CWLL – President

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Central Whidbey’s John Rachal fires the ball back in during a playoff game. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Celebrating during a run to the state tourney are (l to r) Madison McMillan, Allison Nastali, Chloe Marzocca, and Savina Wells. (Photo by Jackie Saia)

Central Whidbey Little League finds itself at a crossroads.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented any games from being played this spring, and the future is hazy.

While CWLL is moving forward with the hope of returning its players to the diamond in 2021, a looming crisis involving a lack of volunteers could become a major issue.

Despite being the smallest league in the region, with 90-100 players, Central Whidbey is required to have the same compliment of board members and volunteers as bigger leagues.

North and South Whidbey, Anacortes, La Conner, Sedro-Woolley, and Burlington have larger parent bases to draw from, while CWLL has had to scramble to fill all of its positions in recent years.

That may get harder very soon, unless a new generation steps up.

“CWLL finds itself in a very challenging position,” said President Gordon McMillan. “Probably not unlike many other non-profits and youth organizations in these unique times.

“And we are facing another huge challenge; the majority of the current board and volunteers have children (or grandchildren in my case!) that are “aging out” of little league in the next year or so,” he added.

“We have very few volunteers that have younger kids playing; with no line of succession, it is clear, in my opinion, CWLL may very well not survive.”

If Central Whidbey is unable to fully staff up, its players might have to try and latch on with North or South Whidbey in the near future, something which could prove difficult – especially if those organizations decide they can’t handle the influx.

“This would be tragic,” McMillan said.

The league president would hate to see Coupeville’s ballfields sit silent.

“CWLL has by far the most beautiful setting,” McMillan said. “I like to call Rhody Park our “Field of Dreams.”

“Island County Parks have been very accommodating and generous in their support of CWLL and it should be duly noted. Rhody belongs to all of us … and the county should be recognized!”

Baseball and softball have a place deep in McMillan’s heart, a big part of the reason he and others have worked so hard to make CWLL the success it is today.

“Little League has touched so many of our lives, the vast majority in a positive manner, I believe,” he said.

“Not every child can play football or basketball, but I venture a guess that every child has picked up a ball, a bat, a glove, and played some sort of baseball/softball/Wiffle ball … neighborhood … sandlot … school PE … or little league.”

For McMillan, little league made an impact on his life, first as a player, then as a coach and official through two generations of his offspring.

“Little League has been a passion of mine since 1956, when I first “made the team” in North Vancouver, BC,” he said.

“I have coached three of my kids and one granddaughter (Madison) and only hope they have, or will have, the same warm and wonderful memories as I have, and look back someday, not remembering the wins and losses, but the fun, camaraderie, and life lessons

“Then, and only then, did we, as coaches, umpires, administrators, concession operators, field maintenance crews, score keepers, spectators, etc. do a good job!”

 

If you’d like to become a volunteer, or have any suggestions for CWLL officials as they navigate the waters ahead, contact McMillan at centralwhidbeyll@gmail.com.

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Chris Smith, always exuding a quiet confidence. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Jack of all trades, and also a master of all of them.

In his time at Coupeville High School, Chris Smith brought professionalism, superb teaching skills, and enough energy and spirit to light up a town on his own.

Not content to just take one job and be good at that, the father of three stepped into the thick of things, bouncing from season to season, always in uniform and always on point.

When he left us in the spring, Smith was the head varsity baseball coach at CHS, as well as being in charge of both the Wolf JV boys basketball and JV volleyball programs.

While it’s understandable we’ve lost him, in person at least, with the real world pulling him away from Whidbey after the graduation of his youngest child, his memory will live on for a long time.

Over the years, I have worked with a lot of coaches, some great, a few far less so, and Smith easily lands in the top tier.

He brought an energy and excitement to everything he did which carried over to the young women and men he coached, and it genuinely seemed to inspire many of them.

“Get on the bag, son, and stop givin’ me angina!”

There were big wins, and a few tough losses — coaching will always give you both — and Smith reacted, in public at least, as if both were the same.

When his squads pulled off victories, whether by rout or hard-fought comeback, he was quick to spread the love. Both to his players, and to his fellow coaches.

It was his steady hand and calm, but fiery, nature, which centered his team, but rarely does a squad win or lose because of just one person, and Smith knew that.

He was not a screamer, but he could, and did, get his athletes bouncing off the walls when needed.

And, just as often, he was that calm voice in the wilderness, reaching out to comfort and pick someone up at their lowest.

Smith is a people person, and also very adept at reading each individual he came into contact with, and adapting his approach to fit what will work best to maximize their response.

It’s what separates a decent coach from a great one, and I firmly believe he lands in the latter category.

Hanging out with Kory Score on Senior Night.

What is also unique about Smith is his ability to coach both boys and girls sports teams, subtly shifting his approach to fit whatever the situation might be.

In each sport, he brought out the best in his players, helping some of them to soar way past their abilities, and giving others hope.

That hope came because Smith was relentless in preaching a positive mind-set.

He wasn’t rah-rah just to be rah-rah.

Confidence, in himself and in his athletes, flowed out of Smith like water, and he always had a warm word or a grin and a quick joke for everyone around him.

Passing on wisdom to Hawthorne Wolfe.

Sports teams often take on the attitudes of their coaches, which meant his squads played with passion, but also with a quiet confidence.

Several of those Wolf teams had major comebacks, pulling out wins from contests which seemed to be well out of hand in the early going.

Smith didn’t need to scream, or throw clipboards, or wing a chair across the gym, Bobby Knight-style, to get the attention of his players.

He showed his young charges respect, asked for it back, and inspired them to reach great heights in a calm, reassured manner.

And then, without fail, he always sent stats and quotes to the ink-stained wretches in the press, or stopped to talk to us, giving of his time in a way which made you believe that was what mattered most to him in the moment.

Even if he was probably dog-tired and dreaming of dinner and some quiet time.

Smith (with big assistance from their mother Charlotte) gave Coupeville three of the most-talented athletes our town has seen in recent decades — sons CJ and Hunter and daughter Scout.

But then Chris also gave us his time, his expertise, and his conviction, playing a key role in building each of the Wolf programs he helped lead.

We’ll miss him, but wish him the best as he pursues new goals off-Island.

A piece of Smith will always be here in Coupeville, however.

It will show through each time one of his athletes has a big moment, finds something inside themselves they didn’t realize they had, and achieves greatness in life.

And he will also live on through this blog, since, after this, he’ll join his children up at the top of the page under the Legends tab.

The newest member of the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame, he exits the way he entered — a winner every step of the way.

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