Good bye — and thanks for allowing me to share my passion for sports

Jim Waller

Jim Waller

I doubt there is a person as ingrained in Oak Harbor High School athletics as I.

Nearly everyday of my life has been impacted in some way by high school sports, and I may have witnessed more OHHS athletic events than anyone else. Toss in the Coupeville and South Whidbey games I have watched, and it is no wonder I need a seat cushion.

My father was a longtime teacher, coach and athletic director. After coaching at Coupeville for several years, he moved our family to Oak Harbor when I was 3 years old.

I remember going to his basketball practices, playing under the bleachers, running through the empty school halls and shooting baskets on a side hoop in the gym as he conducted drills on the main floor.

I remember sitting behind the team bench, watching the Wildcats play and my father coach.

I remember counting the divots he created by kicking the wood bleachers in protest of ball calls.

I remember riding the team bus to away games, mingling with the players, who at the time seemed like athletic gods.

I remember going to other Oak Harbor sporting events with my father, who often served as scorekeeper for the teams he wasn’t coaching.

I also remember that the food tasted a little bit better the weekend after a big win on Friday night, and that the mood was sometimes somber after a loss.

Eventually I became one of those “gods,” competing for my beloved Wildcats.

At the University of Washington, I would scour the sports pages (no internet in those days) looking for Oak Harbor scores.

After getting my degree, I returned to Oak Harbor and wrote sports for the Whidbey News-Times for several years before beginning a 30-year career as at teacher and coach at the high school.

Eleven years ago, I returned to the sports desk. It allowed me to keep involved in OHHS sports. It also gave me the privilege of covering Coupeville and South Whidbey teams.

Friday was my last day working for the Whidbey News Group.

It is time to thank all of those who helped me along my journalistic journey. As with most thank you “speeches,” it is impossible to name everyone. Also, I am old and my memory is fuzzy, so I apologize for any omissions.

Thanks to the late Wallie Funk, who encouraged me to go into sports writing, and to my superiors at the Whidbey newspapers — Marcia Van Dyke, Jim Larsen, Keven Graves, Megan Hansen and Jessie Stensland, who left me alone to do my thing.

To our readers, thank you for allowing me to invade your newspaper. I hope my passion for sports, particularly high school sports, was evident.

Thank you to all the coaches who put up with my constant pestering for scores, details and comments. I would also like to thank them for indulging in conversations about coaching, allowing me to scratch an itch developed from all my years patrolling the sidelines.

Thanks to the coaches (the anti-Bill Belichick types), such as Jay Turner, Mike Washington, David King and Willie Smith, and more recently Brad Sherman and Scott Fox, who trusted me with behind-the-scenes information that better explained what I saw on the courts and fields. They, along with athletic directors Jerrod Fleury and Paul Lagerstedt, trusted that what was said “off the record” would stay that way; I appreciate their confidence in my professionalism.

And, finally, I would like to thank my family. My late parents, Mert and Jeanne, provided me with a strong moral compass and a love for athletics. My brother Mike is my mentor, and my sisters Wendy and Kay, along with my in-laws Don and Verla Skiver, were among my biggest supporters.

Thanks to my sons Brett, Bryce and Brooks (Huey, Dewey and Louie were taken), who would tag along to my practices like I did with my father. They were willing to give up more one-on-one time with me so I could be a father figure to the athletes I coached.

And, thank you to my wife, Sandee. She makes all the laughs heartier and the tears less painful.

Midway through my teaching and coaching career, I earned my masters degree by taking weekend and night classes. One of my classmates was a coach at Burlington-Edison High School. One day after class he lamented that his wife did not enjoy athletics. She begrudgingly went to his games and did not understand the details of the sport. He said they were happy but something was missing because they did not share his passion for sports.

When I got home that evening, Sandee was reading Sports Illustrated and watching the Mariners on TV. I am blessed.

When she was nine-plus months pregnant with our first child, she drove alone to North Seattle to watch one of my baseball games. The mothers of the players were dismayed that she would venture there when she could, literally, go into labor any minute. She responded that she couldn’t bear to miss seeing the kids play and her husband coach. Hey, we were dumb, young and in love — with each other and baseball.

I retired from the newspaper Friday, Dec. 18, but a few stories I have written are waiting to be published, so my byline may pop up in the future. If they twist my arm, I may write a few more stories from afar.

My playing, coaching and writing (for the most part) days are over. But the passion for sports is still there.

Two of our sons and all of our grandchildren live in North Carolina, so Sandee and I are moving to Tar Heel country. Regardless, I will always be a Wildcat and adopted Wolf and Falcon.

It’s time to be a grandfather and teach the little ones I love the sports I love.


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