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Posts Tagged ‘OHHS Wildcats’

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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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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Oak Harbor grad James Besaw hopes to play baseball in Wisconsin next spring. (Photo courtesy Teresa Besaw)

New state, same game.

Oak Harbor High School grad James Besaw is off to the Midwest to pursue his baseball dreams, while continuing to work on his college education.

The former Wildcat star will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Superior, a liberal arts school where he’ll be pursuing a bachelors in chemistry.

Besaw, who is working as a park aid at Deception Pass State Park this summer, leaves near the end of August to head to a school with some famous alumni.

Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t need much of an introduction, but Wisconsin-Superior has also graduated Pixar co-founder David DiFrancesco, several NFL players, and old-school Major League Baseball star Morrie Arnovich.

Arnovich played seven seasons in the bigs, making the All-Star team as a Philadelphia Phillie, before winning a World Series with the 1940 Cincinnati Reds.

Wisconsin-Superior, which plays baseball in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, is an NCAA D-III school.

After graduating from OHHS, Besaw played his freshman season at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

He then moved back to the Northwest, where he suited up this spring for Green River College alongside Coupeville grads CJ Smith, Joey Lippo, and Hunter Smith.

The season ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the handful of games he played as a Gator don’t count against Besaw’s college eligibility.

Wisconsin-Superior contacted Besaw, and, after a visit to the campus, he decided it was perfect for the next step in his baseball career.

“I don’t look forward to him being so far away, but I am excited for him to play ball again,” mom Teresa Besaw said. “He was off to such a good start before COVID hit.

“It’s just over a bridge from Duluth, Minnesota, so there will be lots to do where he’ll be at,” she added. “I’m glad to see him getting more opportunity to play ball.

“He’s been loving the game since he was four.”

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Rain? What rain? (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Through rain and pandemic, the show must go on.

While Coupeville High School opted not to hold its annual senior parade this year, Oak Harbor soldiered on, and local photo whiz kid John Fisken was on hand to snap pics.

To see everything he shot, pop over to:

https://www.johnsphotos.net/Events/OHHS-Senior-cruise-2020-06-12/

PS — This time around, all photos can be downloaded for free.

 

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Jon Atkins, seen during his days as Coupeville High School football coach. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Onward and upward.

After more than a decade teaching at Oak Harbor High School, and a two-year run coaching football in Coupeville, Jon Atkins has landed an administration job beginning next school year.

He’ll join Mariner High School in Everett as an Assistant Principal.

Atkins coached CHS football through the 2016 and 2017 seasons, becoming the first Wolf coach to beat South Whidbey in The Bucket game in back-to-back seasons.

During that time be bounced between schools, as he also coached girls basketball at OHHS.

An employee of the Oak Harbor School District since 2008, Atkins started as a coach, then went back to school to obtain his teaching certificate.

He’s taught in the Choices program at OHHS since the 2013-2014 school year.

Before accepting the Assistant Principal position at Mariner, Atkins earned an Educational Leadership administration certificate through Western Washington University.

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