Published: Friday, January 6, 2012

Prep athletes embrace Twitter

More and more high school athletes are joining the micro-blogging website to interact with fans, friends and rivals

By David Krueger
For The Weekly Herald
Some have embraced it, while others just don’t get it.
The Twitter Revolution is in full bloom and numerous athletes, especially at two particular high schools, have adopted the micro-blogging website as a new way to communicate with friends. Whether they’re tweeting mundane details about their days or shout-outs (s/o) to friends, it’s become a big part of their lives.
Twitter is a social media tool that allows its users to update followers on their life in 140 characters or less. Just how much space is that?
If the above paragraph was tweeted it would have been two characters too long.
Twitter launched in July 2006 and has been rapidly growing ever since. It currently boasts over 300 million “handles,” slang for Twitter usernames, and over the last year a number of athletes from Meadowdale and Edmonds-Woodway high schools have joined the herd. One of them is Ethan Coffey (@ethancoffey12), a senior at Meadowdale. He does a lot of the same things high school kids do: He plays football. He does homework. He fills out college applications. And he tweets at his friends.
Coffey tweets four to six times a day to update his followers on what’s going on in his life. He tweets before school, after school and sometimes during school. “If something funny happens in class, I’ll tweet,” Coffey said.
Coffey began tweeting about a year ago because a lot of his friends had joined the website. At first he wasn’t sure how this new technology would be useful. “I was kind of like, ‘What the heck is this?’” Coffey said.
But he, like many others, soon found value in Twitter. Coffey was able to get updates on sports scores instantly through his Twitter feed. He could talk to his friends from school and help get his football teammates pumped before a big game. Before he knew it, Twitter had upstaged the previous King of Social Media: Facebook.
“Twitter’s taking over,” he said.
Edmonds-Woodway football player and wrestler Sam Song (@DoctaSong79) agrees.
“Well for me, Twitter is just a social network just like Facebook,” Song said. “But it is a bit better because people are able to constantly update how they are feeling and what they are up to unlike Facebook which is limited to about one status a day.”
It’s not just students buying in, either.
“I have an account,” said Meadowdale football head coach Mark Stewart. “I don’t know if I started (the trend) though.”
Stewart (@MeadowdaleFB) uses his Twitter account to tell players when practice starts. He also disperses game-day information as well as information for parents, including links to athletic forms.
“You always have to figure out with technology how does it make my life easier?” Stewart said. “My thing with Twitter was to communicate to the kids about practice time and it was a lot easier than trying to text all of them. If it makes my life easier then I’m in.”
Edmonds-Woodway coach John Gradwohl will probably not be tweeting any time soon. The coach of the Mavericks’ crosstown rival doesn’t see the point.
“Honestly I don’t know, I’m not that old but I don’t get Twitter,” said the 46-year-old Warriors coach. “I don’t think that anything I have to say is that important that everybody needs to read it.”
Gradwohl worries about the new problems that come with new technology. Aside from the fact that students aren’t supposed to use electronic devices on the E-W campus, he fears that athletes will trash talk with opposing teams online, and that could lead to fights in real life.
He’s also unsure that when a student tweets something, he or she realizes the full ramifications. “We have to continually strive to help students understand ... the Golden Rule needs to apply to your cell phone,” Gradwohl said of the maxim one should treat others as one would like to be treated.
Stewart somewhat agrees about the latter. He said that last year a Meadowdale student declared something on Facebook and “we had a conversation to take it down. You put stuff out there it stays out there. The information you put out never really goes away.”
The coaches agree that Twitter is a spreading form of communication.
“If you walk down the hallway of the school and you walk by 10 kids standing together and they all have their phones out and no one’s talking to each other,” Gradwohl said.
Things were much different when Gradwohl was a student.
“I went through high school with no cell phone. I think I was married for 15 years before I had a cell phone,” he said laughing. “The world’s just gotten so small for them. We’re trying to adapt to their world. This whole social networking is just a fast growing thing. The kids are keeping up with it cause it’s their world.
“If I was their age I’d do it.”
Coffey said that he’s especially careful because he’s applying to colleges and doesn’t want to give any admissions officers cause to reject his application based on his Twitter account.
When he first got Twitter, Coffey had his account set to private, which means people had to request to follow him. It gave him full control over his Twitter. He has since opened it up to everybody, but maintains that he’s very careful. Others, he said, aren’t so much.
“I see a lot of friends and I don’t think they realize it,” Coffey said, “how many people can see it. I don’t swear at all on my Twitter or Facebook, because it is so public, and I don’t want people to get a bad impression of me.”
Warriors girls basketball player Madeline Kasper (@maddog_woofwoof) tweeted that she checks the site “at least 10 times a day. And I always use it to find out what people are doing.”
That’s one of the main beauties of Twitter, according to Coffey: its immediacy. Users are instantly able to update, or be updated.
“If I don’t tweet it immediately, I don’t tweet it at all,” Coffey said. “You gotta send it immediately or else it loses its value. Since Twitter’s so instant, it becomes old news. It really isn’t, but it kind of is.”
Song, who created his Twitter account last summer, estimates that “40 percent” of E-W students utilize the site. At Meadowdale, Coffey has seen 10 students write their Twitter handles on a classroom white board at once, along with “follow me.”
It’s not just what people are doing that’s important, but how they are doing it. Coffey explains some basic rules for Twitter. The first he says he learned from someone he followed who graduated last year.
“He tweets a ton. He’s like, ‘I’m gonna give you a hundred today.’ He tweets about stupid stuff. I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to just tweet about random stuff because my followers will be annoyed. I’ve tried to go with quality over quantity with Twitter.”
Coffey also sees the value of retweets -- when you re-post something tweeted by somebody else. For example, if a teammate had a good motivational tweet on the day of a big game, Coffey would often retweet the exact same post to his followers. He said it’s good for team bonding, and can help get everybody excited for the game.
Coffey doesn’t see Twitter going away any time soon. He thinks that its usefulness, combined with peoples’ desire to talk about themselves, virtually assures that the social media website will continue to thrive.
“I think it’ll last,” Coffey said. “People like themselves. It’s almost like an online journal, except its public. ... It’s so quick and so directly to the people.”
Even Gradwohl admitted he may one day cave in and join the hundreds of millions who have already signed up.
“You know,” he said, “if I figure it out and I find a use for it -- maybe there is a use for me.”

Ethan Coffey, Meadowdale football

Sam Song, E-W football, wrestling

Madeline Kasper, E-W girls hoops

Margreet Barhoum, Meadowdale girls hoops

Devin Joseph, E-W boys hoops

Sidney Eck, E-W girls hoops

Head coach
Mike Stewart, Meadowdale football coach