Aaron Finley heard he had been nominated a little more than a week before the official announcement of the 2018 Warrior Superfan at Wednesday’s boys and girls basketball double-header against St. Bernard’s.
What Finley didn’t know was his loose-lipped friend was just one of a record-breaking 28 nominations for Bicoastal Media’s seventh annual award.
“I had gotten wind of the fact that I had been nominated, but I got wind of the fact that I was nominated by one person,” Finley said. “I didn’t get wind of the fact that I had been nominated by a number of others. That got me — I’m not going to pretend that it didn’t.”
KCRE morning show host Rene Shanle-Hutzell, who emceed the event, said she wasn’t sure what the previous record for nominations was, but Finley easily outpaced it this year.
“We get multiple nominations every year for Superfans, but nothing to the extent of 28,” Shanle-Hutzell said. “The cool thing was that none of them were relatives. They were all people that have worked with Aaron and they’ve been Warriors themselves, so it was really a cool multiple-nomination from so many people who know Aaron Finley.”
Finley has lived in Del Norte County his entire life with the exception of a few years in Humboldt County while earning a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Since graduating, Finley has used that degree to cover all sorts of Del Norte sporting events as a correspondent for the Times-Standard for 15 years sandwiched around five years as the sports editor of the Triplicate. Finley has also been a writer for delnortesports.com for the past few years.
“I tell people all the time, selfishly, one of the reasons that I do what I do is because doing what I do is as close as I’m ever get to being a physical participant — wearing a uniform between the white lines or the black lines,” said Finley, who has walked with the aid of crutches since childhood. “But what I also tell people when I am acknowledged for anything that I have written is that you are the ones who do all the work. All I have to do is acknowledge it without screwing it up. That is my role.
“I get a kick out of watching the kids grow from the youth level on up. Doing what I do allows me to stay involved, stay in the community, and to come as close as I am ever going to come to being an actual participant. My role is to acknowledge the work that the athletes are doing, the coaches are doing, and the administration is doing. My role is just to paint the word picture and acknowledge it rather than being between the lines and somehow affecting the outcome of games.”
Although physical limitations never allowed Finley to suit up for the Warriors, he became an avid sports fan early in life. In fact, Finley still remembers exactly what got him hooked.
“Sitting in my grandfather’s recliner and reading the Sporting Green out of the San Francisco Chronicle when it actually was a green,” Finley recalled. “I read the articles even though I couldn’t comprehend or articulate what I was reading. I knew it was athletics and I knew I wanted to do this. That is where it all started. I tell people all the time that I was one of the fortunate ones because I knew what I wanted to do when I was 6 years old.”
While Finley knew he wanted to be involved with reporting on athletics, it wasn’t until college that he settled on writing as his professional medium.
“My original plan was to be a baseball player but that went kablooey,” Finley said, tapping one of his crutches to drive home the point. “So my next plan when I went to college was that I wanted to go into broadcasting, but they didn’t have a broadcasting major at a school anywhere close to home. The closest one was Eugene, Oregon, and I wasn’t going to go out of state. So I went to Humboldt (State University), and I went into journalism with my heart set on coming back here and being a sports writer.”
After graduating, Finley took a job as a correspondent for the Times-Standard in 1997 and has been covering Warrior athletics ever since.
Over the past 20 years, Finley started to see more and more Del Norte athletes whose parents or family members were classmates of his, and even a few children of athletes that he covered back in the late 1990s.
“That is one of the reasons that I know I have been in this community for so long, and I have been doing business in this community for so long,” Finley said. “It will catch me, because I will go, ‘Wait a second, what are you doing here? I went to school with your mother or father or family members.’ And it is happening more and more frequently with teams in the last 7 to 10 years. I will be 45 in April, so that makes sense. I am multi-generational now and it is a bruise to the ego, I’m not going to lie, but at the same time it does demonstrate that I am still involved, and I am still happily involved.”
One of the most important, and enjoyable parts of Finley’s job as a sports journalist is developing personal relationships with the kids, and getting to know them as people rather than just athletes.
“As far as I’m concerned, the only way that I am able to do my job is to get to know them as individuals rather than just kids wearing names and numbers,” Finley said.
But as a writer, Finley is always on the margins of the action.
“I’m not the story. My job is to tell the story not be the story,” Finley said. “My job is to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, not my own. I couldn’t care less about those.”
But at halftime of the Del Norte boys basketball game against St. Bernard’s on Wednesday, it was Finley and his accomplishments that were thrust into the spotlight.
“The Warrior Superfan award goes to the person that displays complete Warrior pride. I mean they are there for the blue and gold...,” Shanle-Hutzell said on Wednesday, leading up to the announcement of Finley as the 2018 Superfan. “I don’t have time to read through all the nomination comments, but I will tell you that these were some of the words used to describe tonight’s Superfan: Loyal, dedicated, loves all Warrior sports including youth and girls sports… This year’s Superfan is always supportive, always there, a die-hard Warrior fan, deserving, but the biggest word is inspiring.”
Although Finley already knew he was one of the nominees for the award, he said he still wasn’t sure that Shanle-Hutzell was describing him.
“What really got my attention what when Rene Shanle-Hutzell read the nomination form that she read — it happened to be from a person that I have known since I was 4 years old (Christine Graves),” Finley said. “Honestly that is when it all clicked.”
Finley made his way from his customary seat just behind the Del Norte team’s bench and walked through a tunnel of cheerleaders and dancers in the ceremonies grand finale. Afterwards, Finley left the gym to pose for pictures in the hallway and to share the special moment with family and friends that were in attendance.
Back on the court it looked like the Del Norte boys basketball team was missing this year’s number one fan, however. The Warriors had a comfortable 12-point lead when Finley left the gym to complete his Superfan obligations, but St. Bernard’s narrowed the gap quickly while Finley was out of the gym.
“My uncle was watching the scoreboard and he would pop back in to tell us the score,” Finley said. “When it got tied back up at 34-34, being a narcissist, I said, ‘OK, I’ve got to get back in there because it is now tied. They were up by 12 when I left the room.’”
With Finley back behind the Del Norte bench, the Warriors stopped their slide and stayed even with St. Bernard’s through the fourth quarter, eventually pulling away for a 56-49 victory in overtime.
Along with the title of “Warrior Superfan,” Finley was also awarded lots of memorabilia and prizes for receiving the distinction.
“A true Superfan really love all things Warrior sports, so we take the time and we get a football, a basketball, and this year a volleyball, and we get them signed by this year’s varsity players,” Shanle-Hutzell said. “They also get a plaque of course, a season pass, a Bi-Mart gift card, blue and gold flowers, balloons and other fun stuff. The main thing is the recognition of saying, ‘Hey, this person really is that Warrior Superfan. Whatever the reasons, they were there to support the Warriors in not just football and basketball, but all Warrior sports.’ Aaron truly is that guy.”
For a man who makes his living off of acknowledging the accomplishments of others, receiving the Warrior Superfan award was a meaningful experience.
“I want to express my appreciation to the community for their outpouring, acknowledgement, and their sentiments on my behalf,” Finley said. “I’m not one to toot my own horn or to accept compliments arbitrarily, but it does say something when the community that I have called home for 44 years acknowledges, and chooses to acknowledge in this sort of way. It says something about, not me as a person, but it says that I am doing something right, and have been doing something right for a long time. That really does mean a lot to me.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .