Keeping upbeat after decade on preps beat

Commentary: Paul Valencia

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

It was a Wednesday, the day after that terrible day.

The date, Sept. 12, 2001.

Traditionally, that is our day for high school sports features. Perhaps a column and notes, too.

But we were not sure, at first, what to do with the Sports section for the Sept. 12 edition. Do we change our plans and go with straight sports news? After all, the American sports world, just like the American anything world, was rocked that Tuesday. Baseball games were postponed. At the time, we had no idea what would happen with the weekend football schedule. We could have filled the entire section with sports news and the sports world’s reaction to that horrific day.

Instead, we opted for some normalcy, to have at least one feel-good piece in the newspaper that day.

In the great words of Earl Warren, former Chief Justice of the United States, quoted in Sports Illustrated in 1968: “I always turn to the sports section first. The sport’s page records people’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

The story ran as planned, with pictures of Camas soccer sisters Shannon and Lisa Hogan playing their game.

I will always remember their story for two reasons.

First, the next day we received several compliments from readers, thanking us for going with a positive feature on the Sports page. If nothing else, it was a five-minute escape from the reality of terror. (My other story that day was sports news, detailing how more than 30 varsity events were cancelled that Tuesday night in Southwest Washington.)

And second, it was my first regular feature for The Columbian as the high school sports writer.

Yep, 10 years now.

It’s been a great ride.

That first year was cool. Mountain View reached the Class 4A state semifinals in football, just the second time that had been accomplished by a Vancouver school. Since then, it’s been done seven more times. And if you add a Clark County team not in Vancouver, it’s eight.

So, yeah, I bring good fortune to high school football in Southwest Washington. (The best part of that is the practices on Thanksgiving Days for those squads. That gets me out of the house for a few hours and I don’t have to travel for hours for Thanksgiving. “Sorry, honey, gotta work!”)

While the games are a blast to cover, it is the feature stories that usually are more fulfilling for me. Those are the times I get to know our athletes just a little bit more. It’s not numbers. It’s not touchdowns, spikes, top times, or total points. It’s what is inside. How does she do the things she does? How does he prepare himself every day?

And as I look back on some of our work at The Columbian, I realize I am very fortunate to have the beat that I have. I believe I wrote this 10 years ago, too: “Winning at the varsity level of high school sports is very important, but it’s the last level of sports where winning is not the most important thing.”

Yes, we write features on the best of the best. But we also write stories on the reserves, the non-stars who have compelling stories to tell.

So in the near future, I’ll be writing an occasional “Where Are They Now?” updates.

I am looking forward to former Evergreen three-sport athlete Austin Luher returning to the States for an interview. Got an e-mail from him Tuesday morning. A captain in the U.S. Army, he is commanding 188 soldiers in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

He is an athlete I will always remember. Not because he excelled in three sports in high school, and not because he golfed for Army at West Point. But because he was in the first high school graduating class after the attacks of Sept. 11, and he accepted his appointment to West Point and is still serving today.

While I am a former soldier, my circumstances were so different than those who serve today. Anyone who joined after Sept. 11, 2001, has my everlasting respect.

So here I am, 10 years later, still here, still writing stories of some of the best young people Clark County has to offer.

It’s a mostly positive gig, and we can all use positive stories in our lives.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valencia Paul Valencia: The Columbian. And on twitter at twitter.com/360paulv.