So long, Mercer Island
By MATT PHELPS
Mercer Island Reporter Reporter
May 5, 2009 · Updated 3:57 PM
During the last few weeks, I have been trying to figure out how to sum up the past eight years as the Mercer Island Reporter’s sports editor. Yesterday was officially my last day, and I am now at the Kirkland Reporter. I realized that I have spent a quarter of my life in the middle of Lake Washington, watching kids wrestle with broken necks, swim around the Island, win state and national titles and come back as hard-working professionals.
To my knowledge, I was the longest running sports editor in this paper’s history. It is not that impressive when you figure the paper has only had seven journalists who were exclusively designated as sports editors. I used to get ribbed by sports journalists at the Times and PI for being in essentially an entry-level position for so long. But then again, I still work in the industry I love.
The reasons I stayed so long were not for love of the game, although it is pretty awesome to get paid to watch sporting events. It was not to meet the celebrities on the Island, although I have to say that Mike Holmgren was a pretty nice guy and I found “Slick Rick” Neuheisle to be as advertised. And it was certainly not the money, although a steady paycheck is always good. The reason I have been here for eight years is the community. From the athletes at the high school, the 55-and-over co-ed softball team players, the elementary and middle school athletes on the Midlakes’ swim teams, the coaches, parents and entire families of active Islanders. The majority of my coverage, like most community newspapers, has been on high school sports. I tried to never get involved and to always stay objective. There were a few instances when I failed, such as cheering for running back Greg Mahony as he ran the length of the field against Seattle Prep in a driving rain. I will never forget that football game and the 350 yards which Mahony accumulated, or how my heart sunk when Rita Dierdorf went down with an ankle injury during a 3A KingCo girls basketball playoff game. You would think that it would be easy to keep your emotions in check as a sports journalist. After all, it’s just a game, right? One of the hardest columns I had to write was about my brief friendship with Gary Adrian. The longtime golf coach died a few years back of heart problems. I have had four heart surgeries, so we would talk. When the boys golf team won the state title while he was in a hospital fighting for his life, I didn’t want to write the story, even though it was a great story to tell. Adrian was a great example of the coaching staff at the high school.
While I personally have not agreed with all the coaching changes at the high school in the last decade, I do think that the school and Craig Olson have done an amazing job of finding coaches who care about their kids and not just the athlete.
I have not always agreed with all the coaches at the high school about what should take precedence in the paper or how I cover an event, but all have had my respect. Two people at the high school who don’t receive enough credit in their jobs are Athletics/Facilities Coordinator Ann Meisner and the high school trainer, Shannon Higgins. Meisner has to keep track of all the athletes at the high school, schedules and much other stuff. She proves time and time again to be very good at her job. Higgins keeps them all healthy and is equally as amazing. Next time you see them, say thank you. They are tireless assets at the high school.
But the majority of the people who have shaped my time on the Island are the athletes themselves. I could write a ton of names and experiences, but that would fill the entire sports page for three weeks or more. I have seen two full four-year cycles of Islanders go through the high school.
I thought it was fitting that the last game I attended was girls lacrosse against Seattle Prep on the junior varsity field. One of the first contests I covered was girls lacrosse on a rain-soaked junior varsity field. Back then, the team was not too competitive, and many of the girls were more worried about getting mud on their uniforms than the numbers on the scoreboard. But this game was played in the sun and very competitive. It featured family names such as Haas, Mahony, Homchick, Tomlinson and Swedstedt. They are all last names that I have typed during the past eight years, with different first names attached. The best thing about the game wasn’t the seven-point deficit that the Islanders overcame. It was the familiar faces, names and personalities that make this community unforgettable.Contact Mercer Island Reporter Reporter Matt Phelps at email@example.com or (425) 483-3732.