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Whidbey News-Times Sports Editor Jim Waller (right) listens as CHS coach David King talks basketball strategy. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The adult is leaving the room.

After a lifetime on Whidbey Island, years spent as a stellar athlete, teacher, coach, and journalist, Jim Waller is out the door Friday.

Retirement from his second stint as Sports Editor at the Whidbey News-Times sends him and wife Sandee off on a new adventure to North Carolina, where the grandkids await.

Over the years, as I’ve bounced around the world of Whidbey journalism, writing thousands of stories for multiple publications while never really settling down, one constant has been true.

When he was writing, Waller was the dad sitting in the big leather chair, peering over his paper every so often to tell us, in dulcet tones, the news of the world.

And I was the Dennis the Menace-style kid, even at 49, tottering atop the fence outside his house, screaming “Hey, you wanna know what I just heard?????,” before falling off and landing on my head.

We made a good Mutt and Jeff team, especially in postgame interviews with coaches.

Waller would ask a deep question about in-game strategy, drawing on decades of knowledge and the gravitas which comes with being a member of a real coaches Hall of Fame.

Then, I would follow up by channeling Chris Farley hyperventilating while interviewing someone like Paul McCartney on SNL.

“So, yeah, that one time, when Ethan Spark went flying out of bounds chasing the basketball, and he like completely wiped out the water jug, and liquid and bodies went flying everywhere, and people were screaming like the alien invasion was underway, that was kinda cool, wasn’t it???”

And now you want me — ME???? — to be the elder statesman of Whidbey sports journalism?

Yeah, that’ll give Willie Smith the cold sweats at night…

To think, if it wasn’t for Waller, all those words I’ve typed (and a few that I was paid for) probably wouldn’t have happened.

When my dad moved the family to Whidbey, I was in the middle of my senior year at Tumwater High School, with vague thoughts of becoming a chef.

Which is odd, since I wasn’t especially talented at anything other than joining my friend Ray Jacoby in eating “liberated” cookie dough from the freezer at the New Market Vocational Skills Center.

Forced to take an extra semester at Oak Harbor High School, I signed up for journalism — even though you were supposed to have been pre-approved, which I certainly wasn’t.

I had all of two stories from my time at the super-unfunded THS newspaper (Terry Pullen, our principal, forever an ass), and they probably didn’t scream future sports writer or film critic.

One was an editorial calling for Ted Bundy to be fried in the electric chair, the other was an in-depth look at child porn and sex abuse.

Because we were baiting the principal, who promptly erased the rest of our $1.12 worth of funding.

Best/worst memory of that second story was conducting an interview with a naturally-suspicious police detective as I began to suffer incredibly bad food poisoning after eating from the skills center’s salad bar.

Somehow, I didn’t hurl until right AFTER the interview, but I like to think anyone else in the Thurston County Sheriff Department Office parking lot that day will never forget the horror and the wonder.

But anyway, using my two newspaper clips, I somehow convinced Waller to let me stay in his class, inadvertently launching a 30-year “career.”

He was the one who let me irritate the student body by writing self-righteous angry young man editorials in the OHHS newspaper — which was well-funded — and the one who got me my first story in the News-Times.

From there, Waller was always around, as a sounding board, a mentor, and someone to emulate.

There have been moments when I have come close to honoring his serene, smart style — and a lot where I ranted and raved and burnt bridges (while I was standing on them), testing the patience of many an editor.

When I moved into doing Coupeville Sports, with no one to stifle me (or save me from myself), he was there, having returned to the News-Times for a second run after retirement as a coach and teacher.

Since I often attacked the Canadian owners of the local papers, after they inspired me to launch this blog by erasing hundreds upon hundreds of my bylined stories from their publication web sites, there were some who thought I viewed Waller as a rival.

Not in the least.

He was my mentor, journalistic idol, friend, and the man who always paid when we went out for our semi-regular lunches at The Pizza Factory.

I brought gossip, he brought reason and insight, and, when I have allowed his patient guidance to sink in, it has always made me a better writer, reporter, and person.

My arc through the world of journalism has never been an easy one — I am very likely the only Sports Editor of a twice-weekly paper to leave that job to go work on … mussel rafts in Penn Cove.

Stupid at 23. Stupid at 49. Notice a trend here?

Through it all, through the News-Times, the Examiner, Coupeville Sports, the various movie columns and fly-by-night papers, careening from giddy highs to moments when I’ve been (rightfully) kicked out of Coupeville’s press box and banned from the gyms of rival schools, Waller was the calm voice of reason.

He never tried to change my writing style, or my antisocial tendencies.

But he was always there, with knowledge, with reason, with subtle guidance, if I would take it.

Days before his departure, our final pizza party came at an outdoor picnic table thanks to the pandemic.

While the surroundings were different, the meal wasn’t.

I told dumb stories, to which he gave a smile and nod. And he answered questions, filled in gaps in my knowledge, and offered encouragement, all without ever pushing too hard.

My journalism career has been its own weird thing, but it never would have happened without Jim Waller.

He was the spark, the support crew, and the audience, all rolled into one.

And, for that, I will always be grateful.

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A time before masks. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Call it the never-ending story – whenever I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

Coupeville Sports is largely a one-man operation — though John Fisken and others provide an invaluable service by letting me use their photos — and, as such, it ebbs and flows with my moods.

I’ve been chugging along at it for eight years-plus now, from August 15, 2012 until today.

Though, from time to time, I have fallen off the rails.

Such as when I recently took a six-week sabbatical from late Aug. through the first days of Oct.

I was battered by the darkest timeline we all seem to be enduring, and perplexed by a lack of easily-available sports stories in the age of coronavirus.

So, I went off, and cleared some land at my sister’s.

While yelling a lot at the ungodly amount of dead, but still ferocious, blackberry canes which the former owner of the property allowed to run wild.

I also launched a side gig at https://flatbuttfilmfest.com/, where I post five new 100-word film reviews each morning, cause that sorta, kinda, keeps alive the video store days of my misbegotten youth.

And then, bam, without really meaning to, I returned to Coupeville Sports Oct. 2, and, in the blink of an eye, have published 21 articles in a week.

Since I’ve averaged three stories a day on here since 2012 — this is article #7,919 (not kidding) — that tracks.

Who knows where we go from here.

There are still no actual games until Jan., or at least that’s the plan right now.

COVID will have a lot to say about that, and there are side wrinkles, as the winner of the Governor’s office could change how the state deals with the pandemic, and what is opened or closed.

I also might wake up tomorrow and find out the movie blog is being bought for big bucks by Jeff Bezos, and then I get my indoor/outdoor swimming pool, with waterfall connecting the two sides.

Probably not going to hold my breath on that one…

But, the point is, no promises really. Cause none of us has a freakin’ clue going forward.

The one guarantee – as long as I’m writing Coupeville Sports, I will try and make it the best it can be.

And this is where you, the reader can help.

Do you know a student (of any age) at a Whidbey school (Coupeville, Oak Harbor, or South end) who has artwork or writing they’d like to see published?

Send it to me at davidsvien@hotmail.com and we can make it a reality.

Have a story idea — doesn’t necessarily need to be sports — or want someone to be inducted into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame?

Let me know.

Lastly, this blog, from article #1 to article #7,919 to article #10,000(?) has always been, and will always be, free to read.

No paywalls, ever.

I understand why many sites have gone that route, but I made my choice in 2012.

If you choose to read for free, good on you.

If you like what I’m doing and want to help, however, the easiest way is to click on the link below.

Should you choose to do that, for $5 or for the full price of that mythical indoor/outdoor pool with waterfall, even better on you!

 

https://paypal.me/DavidSvien?locale.x=en_US

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I may use a different style than the reporters and editors at these publications, but I stand with them.

If you look at the ads here on Coupeville Sports, you may have a slight surprise.

Go take a look – on a computer they run down the right side of the page, while on a phone they’re camped out below the five stories on my main page.

The first three ads are for me personally – a PayPal donation button, a “buy my book” appeal, and a connection to my Twitter feed.

After that, starting today, are ads for the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record, which most people would tend to think of as my “rivals.”

Which, for those who have followed my sometimes-rocky relationship with the papers, the bigger of which I worked at as a freelance writer, mail room/press room roustabout, and, eventually, Sports Editor, may seem a bit odd.

Which is why I want to be very clear about a few things here.

First, they aren’t paid ads. I chose to put them up there, and, when you click on the ads, it’ll kick you to each paper’s web site.

I get nothing from this, financially or quid pro quo in terms of advertising.

I approached them, not the other way around.

Secondly, I’ve (mostly) mellowed over the years, and see little reason these days to view Whidbey’s papers as rivals.

Two of my biggest mentors, News-Times Sports Editor Jim Waller and Publisher Keven R. Graves, continue to fight the good fight, day after day, and I have nothing but respect for what they do and how they do it.

Crime reporter Jessie Stensland, who has been at the paper since almost before Deception Pass Bridge was built, is a righteous heir to Mary Kay Doody, the late bulldog reporter who carved out a legend relentlessly chasing the truth, slamming her phone against the wall which (barely) separated our desks when I was fresh out of high school.

With this blog, which is about to hit seven years in August, I sort of run parallel to the path set by the News-Times and Record.

With a lot of jerky-jerky moves along the way.

I’m more biased (call it being pro-Coupeville), I’m more prone to hyperbole (and a lot of exclamation points, at least back in the day) and my stories often are a mix of news and personal opinion.

But I don’t hide any of that from my readers, and I try and stay fairly close to the journalistic ideals I was taught by Fred Obee, Lionel Barona, Kasia Pierzga, Geoff Newton, Ellen Slater, and others.

If you come to Coupeville Sports, there is no question who is producing this, why they are producing this, and just where you can find me if you want to praise me, bribe me with cookies, or throw a royal snit fit about something I’ve written.

And the reporters, editors, and publisher of the News-Times and Record are just as open, just as transparent.

Whidbey’s newspapers are owned by Sound Publishing, which is a subsidiary of Black Press, and it takes no time at all for anyone to know that.

Yes, Canada ultimately pays the bills, but these journalists live here, in the communities where they report.

Which is a long way of getting around to why I chose to offer those ads to the News-Times and Record, and why now.

Because I want my readers to know without a doubt I stand with the journalists at those papers.

We may come at it from slightly different directions, we may have differing opinions on things such as pay walls, but I respect what they do, and I respect that they do it without hiding their identities or agenda.

Unlike, it would seem, Whidbey Buzz.

If you spend any time on Facebook, you’ve likely seen their broadcasts over the past two months.

A honey-voiced anchor, operating in front of a digital screen, wearing an assortment of well-tailored suits, offering a slightly off-key assortment of “stories” over the course of four to five minutes.

No reporters, little actual footage shot on the Island, just the soothing tones of Steve Schorr, your play-by-play man offering up what amounts to a series of re-hashed press releases.

It looks slick. It sounds slick. It feels slick.

And, even if you wonder why the southern end of our very-large Island doesn’t seem to exist in their world, why Coupeville is mentioned less often than Camano or Skagit County, and why he keeps saying “in Whidbey” instead of “on Whidbey,” it goes down fairly easy.

Mainly because 99.2% of people won’t do any follow-up after watching the broadcasts.

Which Whidbey Buzz may appreciate, because, if you pull up the curtain even an inch, you start to have serious questions.

There’s a web site which has no info, and has covered up even who owns the domain.

Other than links to their broadcasts, there’s a small paragraph at the bottom of the site which says “learn how you can become a community sponsor and support the Whidbey Buzz.”CONTACT US TODAY!

However, they have yet to respond to my email about just how I can join the favored few. And I had $5 burning a hole in the pocket of my shorts.

Check out the Whidbey Buzz Facebook page or Facebook group and you find little beyond links to the broadcasts.

There’s an out-of-state phone number (which goes to Vegas), and a “team member” listed — Rick Manning, who owns Rigel Studios, a TV production company in Vegas.

After a little light needling, that company’s Facebook account responded to me, then declined to speak about Whidbey Buzz, citing an NDA.

I got a little more from the Buzz Facebook page, with an emphasis on little.

The unseen page admin was loathe to answer questions, though they did offer to send me a “VIP invite” to a meet-and-greet with Schorr they publicized, while nimbly sidestepping where, when, and if, said meeting would actually go down.

Leaving the spelling mistakes as they were posted by the admin, I was informed “most of the crew are long time residences of the island,” (they’re houses? – I kid, I kid…) but that they were “gathering bios will be on the web site.”

Cause that’s how news operations work, posting bios months after the web site goes live, said no news director ever.

And what crew, asks the man watching a man sitting in front of a digital projection, offering virtually nothing which proves anyone involved has come within two states of Whidbey Island.

To give them some small credit, there is this on the Facebook page, which comes complete with odd uses of capitol letters and the distinct feeling of listening to someone talk without ever really saying anything.

We Know here at The Whidbey Buzz, that many people are asking questions about who were are. As a non-profit News Operation we Pride ourselves in providing reliable, nonpartisan , deeply rooted thoughtful journalism. At our core is the truth and facts of stories. We look only to support the community, and as a non-profit newsroom we rely on donations and sponsorships to support our work. We don’t sell advertising but rather hope the community seeks to support what we are doing. We just thought you would like to know.

As a writer who survives in just that way – community support – my first, last and only follow-up question is, so how do you not have a donate button on Facebook, or your web site, or any place?

Oh, and there’s a Whidbey Buzz Instagram account, which only follows celebrities. As you do.

Now, I’m a sportswriter, not an investigative journalist, but a few more minutes on the internet reveals Schorr is deeply involved in his community … in Vegas.

He worked for Cox Communications there for many years, has an elementary school named in his honor, and is involved in about 2,000 active businesses.

LinkedIn lists Schorr as the President/CEO of Vegas Life TV, Chief Strategy Officer of LV.net, and Founder/President of Consulting Nevada, and that’s just the start for what seems like a very hard-working man.

Oh, and he also hosts Under the Vegas Sun.

There have been hundreds of episodes of that show, in which Schorr gets out and about, conducting interviews with movers and shakers and Vegas strip entertainers in one-on-one chats held at the house Liberace once owned.

I watched a couple of episodes on YouTube and it’s clear Schorr has a deep personal connection to what he’s doing … on that show.

On Whidbey Buzz, I’m not sure I feel the same love coming through.

Professional, slick copy-reading, yes.

But how many times can he refer to it as “in Whidbey, in Oak Harbor, and surrounding communities,” and wonder if he’s forgotten Whidbey is an Island, which means you’d be ON it, not IN it.

The show uses virtually the exact same opening graphics, intro, and style as another show Schorr helped anchor, Newsline America, produced by Rigel Studios.

There’s also The Now Report and the debris of several other shows still lingering out there in the corners of the internet, a veritable web of Vegas-produced shows which seemingly came and went.

Except for Under the Vegas Sun, which again, tip of the hat. That’s the one place I feel a genuine love for what’s being crafted.

But how does a bonafide Vegas dude end up anchoring a slick, yet sort of empty, broadcast focused on a mostly-obscure Island 1,150 miles away in Washington state?

Mr. Schorr, when I spoke to him (or his Facebook admin, cause who really knows for sure on Messenger) said, “I have friends and family that live there.

“Over years I have been there many times just wanted to be able to provide an independent voice for the community. It’s as simple as that. I have great contacts there have had for some time and feel I can provide important information to residents and it doesn’t matter where I hang my hat.”

When I asked him if maybe including that on his web site would be helpful, his response was “I will talk about that when I get up there within the next two weeks. Promise.”

Though he also studiously avoided my question about the when and where of such an in-person meet-up.

But, you know, I want to believe him.

I watch Under the Vegas Sun and I see a man with talent, a man good at his job, a man who could sell you just about anything.

So, maybe this doesn’t play out the way some have suggested.

Maybe the first, and only, sponsor Whidbey Buzz gets isn’t the backers of a proposed housing development here on Whidbey which has been denied numerous times and is in need of positive publicity.

Maybe, as the show shifts to include “rants,” as Mr. Schorr promised it would to a Whidbey Facebook community group which lives and dies for such activity, those rants won’t beat the drum for that development while bad-mouthing a different one on the other side of town.

You know, small-town people with their conspiracy theories…

But maybe I need to be more open and trusting, and buy into the dream that a bunch of shy Vegas residents just want to come promote our Island in their own way.

Like I said earlier, I stand with journalists who operate in the sunshine, who put their names and faces to their work, who offer their readers (or viewers) a chance to interact with them in a legitimate manner.

Maybe Whidbey Buzz will do that. You never know.

I’ll even give the Vegas brigade some incentive.

Embrace transparency, let us into your world, pull back the curtain and let the sun shine in, give us a reason to believe.

Do that, and I’ll give you a free ad the same as I did our local newspapers.

I have a larger readership than you may think, and just imagine all the positive … buzz.

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This collage of spring sports athletes shows just a hint of how many athletes are out there, and every one has a story to tell. (John Fisken photos)

This collage of CHS spring sports teams in action shows just a hint of how many athletes are out there, and every one has a story to tell. (John Fisken photos)

So, I have an idea.

If it works, it could be a benefit to all of us.

Basically, what I want to do is start my own unofficial journalism school, give fledgling middle school and high school writers a foot in the door and add another layer of coverage here at Coupeville Sports.

Way back in olden times (late ’89/early ’90) I was doing an extra semester at Oak Harbor High School (the result of my family moving from Tumwater midway through my senior year).

Having fast-talked my way into the journalism program at OHHS, run by current Whidbey News-Times Sports Editor Jim Waller, I got my big break by accident.

Brian Zylstra, the sports guru at the WNT in those days, was going to a Christmas banquet and needed someone to write about and photograph a boys’ basketball game between Oak Harbor and Shelton.

Long story short, the kid who snapped pics didn’t make the cut, my story was printed, I was offered a second story and I’ve spent the last 26 years chafing editors and readers.

And now it’s your turn.

Yes, you.

Here’s what I’m offering: I want you, CHS and CMS students, to write for me.

In exchange, you get published, your work gets promoted, you make no money (thereby giving you a realistic feel for what journalism offers most of us) and you find out whether slappin’ words together is for you.

Plus, you retain rights to your work, so while it will debut here on Coupeville Sports, it’s your story (and/or photos) and you can use it however you like down the road.

I’m not looking for game coverage right now, though who knows what might develop later.

What I am looking for is your unique perspective, a perspective I, as a 44-year-old non-student, wouldn’t have.

Are you an athlete?

This is your chance to drop a first-person account on the world about what that really means to you, without me slicing and dicing your quotes and shaping the story.

You write, I publish.

Or skip the first-person style and write a conventional story. Up to you.

Subject matter? Also up to you.

The blog is called Coupeville Sports for a reason, but I am easy.

Unless you start droppin’ cuss words left and right (I do have a lot of middle school-aged readers), I will edit your work with the lightest of fingers (if at all).

I, and my readers, want to see through your eyes.

What do you think about when you take the field? What does your sport mean to you?

What is your greatest sports achievement or your biggest failure? What drives you?

What do you, as the athlete in the arena, wish I, as the writer on the outside, saw?

There are no (or very few) restrictions. No word counts. Go as short or as long as you like. Pick whatever topic you like.

Use whatever writing style you like. I would rather see your passion come through than worry about whether your sentences are “properly” constructed.

The more personal you’re willing to be, the better.

Of the 4,000+ articles I’ve published, a first-person account of a former Wolf basketball star facing her battle with alcohol remains one of the most powerful pieces Coupeville Sports has delivered.

Have an opinion on how the athletic code is (or is not) enforced? Vent away, as long as you’re willing to have your name on the article.

Or, want to talk about a teammate who means a lot to you, a coach who inspires you or a game you will never forget? Let it rip.

Whether you go dark or light, tell the story that only YOU can. That is what is remembered longest.

And what if you’re not a Wolf athlete? Welcome to the party, as well.

You don’t have to be playing a sport to be published.

You’re a 7th grader who’s never picked up a ball or bat in your life or a 12th grader who’s about to move on to play college ball, or somewhere in between? Equal opportunity, man.

So, how does this work? It’s simple, really simple.

Send me your stories, either to davidsvien@hotmail.com or message me on Facebook.

If you have photos, so much the better. If not, no worries.

Whether you have one story in you or a billion, let me give you a platform.

Let’s take Coupeville Sports to the next level, together.

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