From the first game played inside Sam Carver Gymnasium, all the way until Western Washington University’s men’s basketball Division II Championship in 2012. John Riseland, the current WWU scoreboard operator, has seen it all.
For Riseland, his 35 years as the WWU scoreboard operator came to an end after WWU’s final home game against Simon Fraser on Thursday, Feb. 26, at Sam Carver Gymnasium, as he chose to retire following the season.
Riseland, who was raised in Seattle even though his family is from Bellingham, began his time at WWU as a basketball player in 1961. He actually played in the first men’s basketball game inside Carver Gym in a game against Seattle Pacific University.
At the time, he was a 6-foot-4 center playing a game that was years away from instituting the 3-point line. Obviously, Riseland has been around to see the game of basketball change drastically throughout the years during his tenure as scoreboard operator.
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“Typically centers I played against were 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6,” Riseland said. “We didn’t have 6-foot-4 players playing point guard. The athletes have changed an awful lot, and they are so much better.”
What has been the most fun, Riseland said, is all the players he’s gotten the opportunity to see play for WWU over the past 35 years. He’s witnessed a number of different generations of players and seen the overall growth of the program, he said.
“What’s been the most fun is getting the chance to see a whole lot of players over a whole long period of time,” Riseland said. “All the generations of players I’ve had the fortune to see and to witness the growth of the program has been fun.”
Riseland can actually boast that he is one of only a handful of people to witness every WWU men’s basketball game played in the current configuration of Sam Carver Gymnasium. Following Saturday night’s Vikings’ women’s game against Simon Fraser, Carver will be closed for 11/2 to two seasons for renovation.
Riseland said the most memorable moment he has had being involved with was working with the men’s basketball team following the national championship in 2012. Riseland and his wife, Brenda, went with the team to Durham, N.C., when WWU was invited to play the Division-I power Duke in a preseason game to open the season.
“That was fun to be able to do,” Riseland said. “It’s something I never would have been able to do if I wasn’t associated with the program, and it was great.”
After graduating from WWU in 1962, Riseland stayed in Bellingham to work as a high school counselor at Bellingham High School and coached the boys’ basketball team for five years. Staying in the Bellingham area allowed he and his wife to continue giving back to the WWU community.
“We’ve always had contact with Western since we graduated. We love Western,” he said.
Riseland worked as a public address announcer at Bellingham for football and track, then became the public address announcer for Western men’s basketball team the following season before becoming the scoreboard operator for men’s basketball games.
“It was a way of keeping my finger in the pie of being around basketball and continue to have experience with basketball on a regular basis,” Riseland said. “It fulfilled the want for me at that time.”
A big reason Riseland said he was able to work as the scoreboard operator through the years was that his wife worked alongside him, serving as the production assistant, communicating with the producers and broadcast crew during televised games.
“She is the motivator,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure having her work with me as well, she grew up in gyms and fields.”
Besides working games, the Riselands have continued to give back to WWU basketball, providing two scholarships per year — one for men’s basketball and one for women’s.
“It’s fortunate that we’re able to do it,” Riseland said. “We’ve been at Western, and it’s been a big part of our lives. It’s kind of a payback.”
Now at the age of 75, Riseland decided it’s time to give up the position.
“I always worry about making mistakes,” he said. “I make little mistakes every game. I’m worried about making a mistake that would cost a team the game, and I think it’s time for me to get out.”
Now that he’s at the end, Riseland said the 35 years have flown by.
“It’s gone fast. Every old person says that, and now I’m at the point where I understand why people say that,” Riseland said. “Being able to watch players grow is fun to watch. From freshman year to senior year, to see the growth in them.”
One player in particular Riseland pointed out was current senior forward Anye Turner. The first time he met Turner was in his first game against Duke, and Riseland has been able to watch him progress the past two years.
“To see how much he has grown and matured as both a player and person has been amazing to watch,” Riseland said. “That’s been the biggest reward of the whole thing.”