Yesterday was not simply another regular Friday with plenty of High School sports to cover. I was at Centralia baseball doing the Tigers and Wolves game where the Tigers blew a big lead and the Wolves came back to win the game. This is a game I was used to looking to my right and seeing a familiar face and friend to ESN but more so a true friend to High School sports, Aaron VanTuyl. We affectionately called him AVT. No on this Friday another Chronicle reporter Jordan Nailon was in the press box. We know Jordan and love his work but this was AVT’s territory and then it hit me, AVT won’t be here anymore. After 8 years as the Chronicle’s Sports Editor Aaron VanTuyl has stepped away from the media business.
Aaron was with the Chronicle for several years prior to taking over for long time Chronicle sports editor Sam Bakotich but Aaron quickly made his mark as being his own man with his own style and opinions. I began working at a local radio station while Sam was still covering the Centralia beat. Sam pretty much stuck to Centralia and ventured outside of that now and then and maybe my memory is shot but it seemed to me there was always someone else covering WF West I think during my time it was Mark Mansfield who is now a teacher/coach at capital High School. Again, please don’t hold me to these as absolute’s but rather reminiscent memories of a burned out reporter.
Sam was a tremendous newsman but also worked most of his career outside of the new media where Twitter was part of an insult and Facebook was a not a real word but likely slurred out of someone’s mouth after a long night of Oly Stubbies. Sam put out a tremendous amount of work and it was very professional and the Lewis County area was lucky to have a man like Sam Bakotich overlook the local sports history for decades.
Then here comes this brash young man from Adna with a different vision of local High School sports. Since he was younger maybe it was as simple as he understood and related closer to HS athletes than us geezers who don’t know when to say enough is enough. He understood there was a new way communicating and knew how to communicate in a way that was relevant to both young and old. Aaron was clearly a fan of local kids and that appeared to me to be his first and foremost mission was to highlight the goodness of kids these days and for them to feel that someone was always on their side.
Aaron could crank out the regular quick re-cap story with stats and numbers with the best of them but when reading an Aaron VanTuyl story there was always a personal touch, a different angle, a crazy stat no one even knew existed or the history of such accomplishments whether they be an individual or team achievement. AVT’s grasp of the local history and not just the past 8 year’s but decades of knowledge and could only happen one way for AVT. Since there is no possible way for him to know many of the things he does simply because he was not alive when they happened was this was a guy who did his homework.
I call Aaron a friend but we’re more friendly aquaintances as we did not hang out together and things like that so much of my knowledge is from observation and that can be incorrect so let me put in my disclaimer here but AVT was someone I could send a message to with a question about the history of anything in the Lewis County sports world and if he didn’t know the answer off the top of his head he would dig and find it. I am not sure how much time he would spend to find an answer for me or why he simply wouldn’t say I don’t know I hope it was because the question I asked was also interesting to him or that he did so because he wanted to help me and in the end I think he did it because that’s Aaron.
I think many get the wrong impression of Aaron because he has this look that can intimidate some, it’s a cross of arrogance, I am better than you and I don’t care what you have to say I am not interested. Before you all jump on me I am just saying some people may take him that way. I have been called an A-hole so many times that I now wear it as a badge of pride. But Aaron, that intense look he gets is one that I have seen in the past from other’s who excel in their professions. And once you talk all your pre-conceptions are gone. That big smile he gets, the laugh, the jokes and one-liners he immediately makes you comfortable. This has made him such a good reporter because he knows how interview and let me tell you interviewing high school kids is a huge challenge, you get a lot of yep’s and smiles and I don’t knows and nodding of the head which I can tell you is just as challenging to present in a radio interview as it is in trying to write a head nod. But I witnessed hundreds of times AVT get great quotes from kids and coaches who are no picnics either. So that look some of you are fearful of from AVT is his “thinkin” look and you should not be fearful and he is very approachable on the other hand I am an A-hole.
One of the biggest differences under the AVT era as Sports editor and from the Bakotich era is the advance of social media and AVT is well known for lighting up especially the twitterverse. Aaron’s twitter followers has climbed from just a few to now more than 3,300. He has been a must follow for us for sure with all the games he does and the re-tweets he has been a huge supplier of current scores for games we could not be at but it will be the other fun and games that would attract a lot of twitter users. Let’s see if I can remember a few of course there’s the obvious pick a winner of the swamp cup, or other game related interactive tweets all very popular. Then the prep football picks and how he would personalize athletes achievements like an incredible throw or power dunk. However, I think I like the breakfast cereal poll the best. Yes, he and his crew would offer up many different takes and polls from the newsroom late at night as they are taking calls from coaches and writing stories to be in the next day. The one point I’d like to make to Aaron is it indeed is ok for you to post a picture or even an interview in your tweets.
Then of course there is the brutal honesty of some of his reporting like the time he took an honest look at Liberty (Spangle) a small town in Eastern Washington that Napavine was playing in football. Of course it was meant for Lewis County readers and a tongue in cheek funny look at the State Championship match-up but he got a lot of hate mail from the Liberty area all thanks to his friend and former Chronicle sports photographer Brandon Hanson who re-tweeted the satirical piece to his new base in and around Chewelah. The Eastern Washingtoner’s then of course had no idea of Napavine and Lewis County calling Aaron one of them Western Wash Libs or what do you expect from liberal Western Washington. It was an impressive stirring of the pot and frankly I was jealous of what he accomplished.
AVT had even more sides and showed his talents off by taking on the challenge of writing a column for the “regular” news called the Lewis County Power Rankings, another tongue in cheek with a big dose of honesty intertwined with his monthly thoughts and observations of Lewis County as a whole. AVT dared showed a side outside the sports world and showed he is a born and raised Lewis County man who also has real concerns about the local area and the future of Lewis County as a whole. His thoughts and observations were one of the few columns I read in the Chronicle. Outside of Brittney Voie I simply don’t care to read a Fox News re-hash of a mad conservative, or the meanderings of an old hippie or the sappyness feel good pieces that are left in the columnist choices. I am sure many people enjoy those other columns and good for them because those columns are for people who like them my taste was what Aaron laid out in his column. It showed a complete different side to this sports only guy that I think surprised a lot of people.
Yah, Friday April 27 was not just another sports Friday in Lewis County it was the end of an era at the Chronicle and maybe 8 years is not long enough for some people to believe it is an era. But in those 8 years I am willing to bet Aaron dealt with more changes in the sports, media, newspaper world than Sam Bakotich had to deal with in decades of being a sports editor. This is not a slight to Sam but Aaron has had to deal with cutting the paper back from a daily to 3 days, social media, the overall decline of the print edition, creating the Lewis County sports blog, reporters taking their own pictures and now print reporters doing their own audio talk show. It has been a whirlwind of change over the past 8 years and in our sports world I can tell you from working with leagues and districts and other media companies all over the state the Chronicle’s coverage of High School sports is held up as an example of how to do it right and at the same time there is a question of how such a small publication like the Chronicle is compared to the alleged “big city” papers can put out not only the quality but the amount of coverage the Chronicle does.
Aaron is a great person and very nice man and is one of those guys who you know you can count on. If you had a flat tire at 1 in the morning Aaron is the type of guy you could call and he would be there to help…however, in this instance he would very likely make you pay for it in some way down the road. : ) Aaron is someone I like and admire and impressed with how he truly loves and cares about kids and their successes. Aaron was always accepting to us and we also looked forward to doing a game that Aaron was also covering. We loved having him jump on at halftime and give us his take or inform us on stats or other tidbits he would add to our broadcast. There is always a headset waiting for you with ESN Aaron anytime you want to jump on a broadcast and we might pay you too!
I wish all the luck to the next Sports Editor, I am not sure who it will be but we know Matt Baide and Jordan Nailon are there to carry on a massive tradition for the short time and maybe the long term. But Aaron VanTuyl will be missed and has left size 20 shoes to fill in my view. Congratulations Aaron on your new opportunity we hope it is the right move for you but please know whether you knew it or not, whether you wanted it or not you have left a legacy and influenced a lot of people who simply won’t have the opportunity to thank you for all your hard work. You did it your way and you did it right, be proud!