A lot of news reporters strive to maintain a distanced objectivity from the people and events they cover.
It’s a little different for local youth sports reporters, and it’s very different for Garrett Whitt, a sportswriter and freelancer who has contributed stories about high school and occasionally professional sports to the Star since 2000.
Whitt’s unapologetic enthusiasm for sports, athletes and coaches is a running theme of his debut book “Old School: Building a Life Through Sport,” a collection of articles he’s written for the Star, for his hometown Point Reyes Light, and as a student at the University of Southern California.
“When you’re doing high school sports, you’re not so much in an adversarial relationship with the coaches or the players,” Whitt said. “There’s a sense that we’re all in this together. If they lose by 40, you have to report that they lost by 40. But you also have to be cognizant that somebody’s grandmother is going to read this, and somebody’s mother is going to read this, and you might run into them in the store.”
Whitt said he compiled the book at the request of his father, who appears with Whitt and his mother and sister on the cover. His mother died in July, but she was able to read parts of it before she died.
“I wanted to do this for my folks, and also it’s one of those things that was left on my bucket list,” he said.
Whitt’s cerebral palsy prevents him from competing in sports, but he has a deep affinity for athletes. He said a person who knew him well once called him “a jock” because he looks at sports through the eyes of an athlete, not a fan.
“Sometimes I’ll go to a medical appointment and they’ll say, ‘Just do this.’ Sometimes I have to say, ‘Sorry guys, I can’t do that because of my disability,’” Whitt said. “It can alienate me from other people because they don’t understand what I go through.”
He said that helps him empathize with athletes who feel sportswriters can never understand what players go through.
“There’s a perception (among athletes) that sportswriters who criticize them are frustrated athletes who can’t do what they do,” Whitt said. “I’ve always taken the opposite approach. … I identify with the coach, with the player.”
Among the previously unpublished articles from Whitt’s college days are an interview with Jim Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times, and a story about attending the NCAA tournament with the USC women’s basketball team in 1992.
More recent pieces include an interview with Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who frequently attends the August V Foundation fundraiser in Yountville, and a column about the wedding of Jess Lander, a former Star sportswriter.
“There are also pieces about just everyday players,” Whitt said. “That’s the message that I want to send. For me, there’s no distinction between coach Krzyzewski and our (local) football or basketball coach. They’re both serving the same purpose and both having an impact and doing what’s important to them.”
St. Helena writer Holly Preston, a fellow USC alum, helped Whitt organize the book. Whitt said it was designed so that people can pick it up, read an article or two, put it down and come back to it later.
The self-published hardback, “Old School” was released on Thursday, is 146 pages and is available at Main Street Books.