Whatcom County high school football historian uncovers milestones

By Oliver Lazenby

When Blaine Borderites wide receiver Anthony Ball caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Borderites’ season opener, it’s safe to say no one realized he had broken the team’s record for career touchdown receptions.

Whatcom County’s self-appointed football historian, Tyler Anderson, didn’t know either, but he had a feeling.

“I had this hunch, like, he’s got to be close,” he said.

The 37-year-old Blaine resident’s personal collection of Borderites statistics confirmed the milestone. Ball’s three touchdown receptions in that game put him at 21 in his high school career, one more than Todd Bird of the class of 2011.

The following week, Anderson may have been the only person to realize when Blaine quarterback Jalen Kortlever reached a Borderites milestone of his own by throwing four touchdown passes in each of the first two games of the season, another team first.

Anderson, who has short cropped hair and glasses, carries a flip phone and works in the shipping department at Totally Chocolate in Blaine, posted both findings on his History of Whatcom County High School Football Facebook page. That turned them from obscure statistics to achievements that Blaine football fans celebrated digitally with likes and shares.

“I want these kids to know that they’re doing something really cool,” Anderson said. “All I did was publish it and it goes viral.”

Anderson has been collecting statistics for every football team in Whatcom County since the mid-1990s, but his records go back even further. After nearly a decade of Saturdays at the Bellingham Public Library looking through old Bellingham Herald issues on microfilm, he’s pieced together a nearly complete record of Whatcom County high school football stats dating back to 1975.

In the last few years, Anderson has been publishing lists and other statistical findings on his Facebook page and website, whatcomcountyfootball.com. Anderson compiles stats and lists and asks himself, “Is anyone going to care about this?” It turns out a lot of people do. He’s developed a following of thousands of fans who find out about achievements that would otherwise go unknown, and former players who get recognized for the forgotten moments of their high school careers.

Anderson gets requests on his Facebook page for stats so obscure even he doesn’t, or can’t, keep track of them. On its best days, his website gets thousands of views. His Facebook page is a gathering place for local football fans, where people discuss videos of plays that happened decades ago.

“It’s just so cool seeing the comment threads on Facebook, the reminiscing and the nostalgia between guys who may have been knocking each other’s heads in 30 years ago on a September night,” said Christopher Ames, who runs statewidestats.com, a crowd-sourced site with Washington state high school football stats going back to 2004.

Christopher Ames is the son of Bob Ames, Meridian High School’s longtime head football coach, and was a standout football player at Meridian in the early 1990s.

“Guys my age and older, we have kids now. It’s so cool to be able to show your son, I actually did a few things way back when,” Ames said.

In addition to his appetite for statistics, Anderson has a memory that allows him to make comparisons between current high school football players and players of yore, as he did in a series of season previews he wrote this year for each county team.

He’s been called both Yoda and Rain Man for his memory.

“I can visually see a lot,” he said, and adds, pointing at his head, “the ’90s are right here.”

That’s partly because he lived it. Anderson was a kicker for the Mount Baker Mountaineers in high school. His career highlights include a 30-yard field goal in overtime against Blaine in 1995.

“He was a good kid. He worked hard and took his craft seriously,” said his coach, current Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper. “Kickers often have a different perspective on stuff, and he fit that mold.”

Anderson started keeping spreadsheets of Mount Baker Mountaineers’ stats in eighth grade, but his obsession with stats started even earlier.

He watched Seahawks games in the 1980s with paper and pencil and recorded stats. When the paper came the next day, he’d check his work against the box score. Anderson turned 11 in 1990.

In eighth grade, Anderson discovered that the Bellingham Herald also printed a box score that looked just like an NFL box score but with people in it that he knew. He started typing those stats into a spreadsheet program on his parents’ chunky Macintosh computer. He later printed out stats for the whole season and brought them to Mount Baker head coach Duane Rilla, who asked him to do it for the whole county to see how other teams were doing.

Rilla retired a few years later, but Anderson kept the spreadsheets up to date.

“I thought, I’m just going to keep doing it because I know these kids and I want to see how they do,” Anderson said.

After high school, Anderson spent a year as a PA announcer for the Mount Baker Mountaineers. After that, he filled in as a freelancer at the Bellingham Herald, covering sports from 1999 to 2004, keeping up on his spreadsheets all the while.

At a certain point, he felt like he had to keep going because he already had such a large collection. Christopher Ames’ statewide stats website launched in 2004, and gave Anderson an outlet for his collection. He plugged about 30,000 entries into the fledgling site.

“He was just so excited that there was a place that took this kind of stuff seriously and that he could contribute, because he has such a passion for this stuff,” Ames said. “He’s doing it for a very pure reason: because he loves it.”

Anderson started his Facebook page in 2013, partly to combat all the negativity he saw in the world with positive stats. He started his website in April 2014, and to help launch it he created a list of the top 500 players in Whatcom County history using a stats-based mathematical model.

He started with number 500 and counted down, posting three players a day, until he got to number one, Jake Locker, five months later.

“It just got bigger and bigger and bigger and when number one was unveiled, that day my website had 140,000 hits,” he said. At that point, Anderson thought he might be able to make money off his site, but he hasn’t pursued that yet. “I’ve never made a cent off this. It’s just strictly passion. And I work a full-time job, it’s not like this is what I do.”

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Local football historian Tyler Anderson shows off his website, whatcomcountyfootball.com at The Northern Light office. Photo by Oliver Lazenby.

He also has two dogs at home, one of which is paralyzed, and takes a lot of his time. He feels bad that the project has taken time away from his girlfriend, especially this summer when he was working on writing season previews for each team.

That people appreciate his work so much keeps him going. When his computer died in 2014, Ames and a friend, Corbett Hanson, started a GoFundMe page that raised $1,300 in two hours.

“I was in tears. People really respond to this,” Anderson said. “The relationships I’ve made from this are amazing, and I’m kind of antisocial. I’ve never had a drink in my life. I’m scared of large crowds. I put on my green hoodie and just kind of watch the games.

“I’ve been over to people’s houses for dinner. To me these former players are not like superheroes or legends or anything, but they’re kind of mythical,” he said. “These are people I never thought I’d meet.”

Anderson began the night on September 9 at Civic Stadium watching the Squalicum vs. Sehome game. At half time he drove 15 minutes north to Meridian High School to catch the second half of the Meridian vs. Blaine game which he correctly guessed, would be the closer of the two.

He goes alone, and roams the sidelines in a green hoodie and green shoes. He doesn’t record stats during the games, but takes some video.

That’s a typical autumn Friday night for Anderson. If possible, he tries to catch four Whatcom County teams in one night. Though Anderson played for Mount Baker and now lives in Blaine, he doesn’t have a favorite Whatcom County team.

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Anthony Ball reaches for a touch down in the game that gave him the team’s record. Photo by Janell Kortlever.

“Every time a Whatcom County team goes against a Skagit team I’m always going for Whatcom County,” he said.

If Anderson moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or even King County, he doesn’t think he’d care to keep statistics for the local football teams. That’s partly because Whatcom County has a rich football history populated with football families, he said. After high school, he kept filling out his spreadsheets because he still knew the kids’ last names. And that’s still the case today.

“At first it was all about, ‘I know these kids. I have science class with him and he’s a 1,000-yard rusher. That’s really cool,’” Anderson said. “But the connections never end. Jalen Kortlever’s dad was an amazing running back in Blaine. Kyle Sentkowski is a great kicker. Well, his brother is a great kicker, his dad is a great kicker. For so many of these kids, their dad or uncle played locally.”

Anderson used Blaine names in this interview, but he could tailor his responses toward any team in the county.

Anderson has always loved sports and stats, but his record-keeping obsession for stats hasn’t crossed over to other leagues or sports.

“High school football is so cool. You’re trying to win a state championship with kids you went to kindergarten with,” Anderson said. “Nobody cuts anyone in football, so some kid who’s not a great athlete at all but busts his butt in practice gets to play with Riley Fritsch going for a state championship.”

If Anderson could time travel, he said he’d go back and watch every football game in Whatcom County history. Thanks to his website, he’s come pretty close to doing that. In June 2013 he started asking coaches for old game films, and many of them turned over whole boxes of VHS tapes.

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Tyler Anderson had an early interest in sports statistics. He started building spreadsheets detailing local sports stats in eighth grade. Photo courtesy of Tyler Anderson.

The tapes allowed Anderson to fill in some of the holes – a few games in the ’90s for which he couldn’t find stats – to his collection. What’s it like to fill in holes to an otherwise perfect collection?

“Oh, it’s the best,” Anderson said, throwing his arms up.

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