While mainstream media have little time for little towns, David Svien has directed a spotlight on his adopted home of Coupeville, especially capturing the exploits of its athletes.
Svien has covered Whidbey Island news for 30 years, settling on his blog, Coupeville Sports, in 2012.
He admits his initial motivation to start the blog wasn’t just to highlight Coupeville athletes.
“The Coupeville Examiner (later changed to the Whidbey Examiner) was sold to the Whidbey News-Times’ parent company in 2012, and with the sale, all my bylines vanished off the estimated 17,425 stories I had written for free for ‘the scrappy small town independent paper fighting the ‘Evil Empire,’” he said.
“I launched the blog with the intention of aggressively hurting the News-Times in Coupeville, taking away advertisers and swamping them in coverage.”
Svien “mellowed, a bit” when some of his former mentors returned to the News-Times.
“The blog transformed into a much-more positive thing,” he said.
Svien also regrets being in “attack mode” in his early Coupeville Sports days, spending too much time jabbing Coupeville’s opponents (especially King’s, Archbishop Murphy and South Whidbey), the News-Times, game officials and more.
“Izzy Severns, an all-state soccer player for Klahowya, privately called me out on it and made some good points, beginning my change,” Svien said.
Soon after, several South Whidbey athletes agreed to answer his questions as he extended an olive branch to Falcon Nation.
“The blog became better as it became less about the rants,” he said.
Svien, 49, lived in Kelso until the sixth grade and then moved to Tumwater and finally Oak Harbor late in his senior year, 1989. Tumwater ran on a trimester schedule and some of his credits didn’t transfer, forcing him to attend OHHS for the first semester of 1989-90.
He started working in Coupeville in the early ’90s and moved to Central Whidbey in 2005.
His professional journalism career began in 1990 when his high school journalism teacher recommended him to the Whidbey News-Times, which was looking for someone to cover a high school basketball game.
He later did odd jobs at the News-Times, and “haunted the newsroom in search of freelance stories.”
“(I) became the go-to boy for covering stuff no one else wanted to, from starfish dying at a local beach to endless school board meetings,” Svien said.
His big break, he said, came on the way to his interview with the new OHHS boys basketball coach. Before reaching the school, he and photographer Geoff Newton were informed of a house fire and raced to the scene. That resulted in his first front-page story.
“Later, after several sports editors came and went in rapid succession, I talked Fred Obee into giving me the job, and, to shut me up, he agreed —- shocking everyone in the newsroom, especially me,” Svien said.
He saw sports as the easiest avenue into journalism.
“I had no desire to write about things like land use laws, school board meetings or garden clubs, and time again all the opportunities which would pop up revolved around sports, so I latched on to that,” he said. “And, at least for me, sports journalism was always much more exciting than a lot of the other beats. There was the potential for all sorts of behind-the-scenes stories, and, most days, it seemed to click for me.”
“I really wanted to be the heir to Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, and spent much of my time trying to convince people to let me write about movies,” he said.
During his days at the News-Times he ran a segment on sports in film.
“Then, after constant badgering, I finally convinced Whidbey News-Times Island Living Editor Ellen Slater to let me launch a video column tied into the TV/entertainment section they ran in the Saturday paper.”
Svien held the News-Times sports editor job from 1992-94, leaving to work on a mussel-harvesting boat.
“It was probably the stupidest decision of my life.”
He soon became manager of Coupeville’s Videoville and worked there until 2006, calling it the “Golden Age — free movies all day long.”
He freelanced, often writing movie reviews. Those reviews landed in the Coupeville Examiner when it launched.
Currently, he runs second blog, flatbuttfilmfest.com, where he writes 100-word film reviews. Svien has published 507 articles in less than four months on the site.
When he started Coupeville Sports in 2008, he liked not having editors looking over his shoulder: “The freedom of the blog has been wonderful.”
“I can write about whatever I want, in whatever style I want, publish at 3 a.m. if I want, get obsessive about minor stuff, go off on tangents, whatever,” he added.
Two posts standout, he said.
He once encouraged students to bring vuvuzela horns to the football games. With that, he lost the privilege (“I deserved it”) to sit in the press box.
“However, nothing tops when I wrote about Hayley Newman, the best hoops player on the island at the time, quitting the South Whidbey girls basketball team with two games left to play in the season,” he said. “I’ve published 7,987 articles on the blog (real number this time), and it remains the only time when I have shut down the comment section. Telling Falcon fans I was taking away their crayons probably didn’t help.”
For the most part, writing the blog has been a positive experience, according to Svien, but “the cesspool that is social media, which I have had to use to promote the blog, gets a bit much at times.”
He has enjoyed writing about such athletes are Hunter Smith, Maddie Strasburg, Lathom Kelley and Sylvia Hurlburt, but none match Makana Stone and Jae LeVine.
“I’ve known Stone since she was a little girl, but Coupeville Sports launched right as she entered CHS as a freshman, and I have had a front row seat to her high school and college days,” he said. “As electrifying as she is in play, regardless of the sport, it’s the behind-the-scenes stories, some of which have never been written about, which fully show why she’s truly special.”
On an emotional level, LeVine rises to the top.
“Born with a serious heart defect, she has never slowed down, even as doctors took one sport after another from her,” Svien said. “The moment when she lifted CHS to its first-ever softball win over Klahowya, drilling a game-winning RBI double off future D1 pitcher Amber Bumbalough, then danced on the bag and fired finger guns at everyone in her dugout, is the most emotional moment of the Coupeville Sports era.”
He laments missing some athletes who deserved a moment in the spotlight, and regrets not interviewing Jean Sherman before she passed.
“She would have had great insights into what it was like to be a female athlete in pre-Title IX days,” he said.
Svien ran off a list of people who have helped him along his journalist route, noting that husband and wife coaching tandem of David and Amy King and Ken Stange “have been invaluable,” and that former coach and current Coupeville High School Athletic Director Willie Smith is “the gift that keeps giving.”
The best thing about the blog, he said, is being able “to get some real-world things accomplished.”
Svien was instrumental in putting together the Wall of Fame in the Coupeville High School gym and organizing the 101-year anniversary of Wolf boys basketball, including the return of popular coach Bob Barker.
His written work has resulted in a handful of awards.
In 1993, he received the Best Sports Column award from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, coming in the open category, which included newspapers of all sizes. In other years, the WNPA recognized him in the Best General Column, Best Humorous Column and Best Education Story divisions.
The Coupeville Booster Club gave Svien the Pride of Pack Award for “outstanding service, volunteerism and support of Coupeville athletes.”
“There was also the glorious spring when I convinced Coupeville parents they should compete against each other to see which sport could award me the most cookies, brownies, cakes, etc.,” he said. “It eventually got out of hand, but not before everyone I worked with at Christopher’s on Whidbey got sweet, sweet diabetes.”
At his website, coupevillesports.com, the subtitle reads “First to the story! Last to know when to shut up!!”
For Coupeville sports fans, thank goodness for that.