It is hard to believe the internet’s WestieBlue.com is in its eleventh year of existence. Started over a decade ago by West Haven’s own Mike Madera, the website has grown into the locals’ go-to sports site for youth through high school sports.
Madera, who is also a contributor to the Voice, started the site in 2010 when the trend of local sports coverage started to decline due to budget restraints and reorganizing within major newspaper publications in the area.
Approached by numerous athletes and parents expressing how sad they were to see the local coverage dwindling, Madera decided to give back to the community, which Madera is no stranger to doing.
Involved in the national and charitable Walter Camp Football Foundation for over 25 years, including serving as the Foundation’s President, Madera knew giving back to his home town was the right thing to do. While he did not know how long it would last, not surprisingly, the site has picked up steam in its eleven years of existence.
Although not affiliated with the high school, Madera has used his close relationships with coaches and all those involved with athletics to put a solid product on the internet. While many call the site a one-man band with Madera doing all the work, the site creator is quick to recognize all those around him which help with the success of WestieBlue.com.
“Honestly, I do all the writing, editing, and posting of statistics, photos, and videos,” Madera said. “But, quite frankly, there are others who contribute behind the scenes. Todd Dandelske has been absolutely amazing with his photos, new athletic director Joe Morrell has been supportive from the start as was Jon Capone, the school’s athletic director before Joe.
“First and foremost, I can’t put the product out there without the effort of the student-athletes, and second, the coaches play a big part in it as well as they are very easy to work with in getting information and talking with them about their teams. So, while yes, I do just about everything on the site, it is a group effort to make everything work.”
For Madera, covering high school sports has been a labor of love as he has done so for the New Haven Register/GameTimeCT and the former Elm City Newspapers (including the West Haven News) for more than 30 years.
The writing part came easy when dealing with the site, but then there was the task of building the original site which was done by Annmarie Pacapelli. Not a computer genius by his own admission, Madera had to learn the inside workings of a website.
As time went on, there were changes. On top of putting in all the information, Madera then had to upgrade the site as the original format was going away. After going through tutorials, Madera built the current version.
According to Madera, the site has been a tremendous success, garnering close to 100,000 visits a year pre-COVID. Those numbers are quite impressive for a local news product.
When asked about the best part of the site for him, Madera says it is the ability for the athlete years later to go back and read about things they have done.
There is also a flip side. With two young kids when the site began, time was not at a premium. That time has not increased as Madera’s two children are now 12 and 14, and actively involved in sports in the community.
“It has gotten much harder,” Madera said. “When my kids were younger, I would stay up late nights, falling asleep at the computer just to get things done. As time has gone by, I have figured out different ways to get the articles and everything done in a timely fashion (within 24 hours) so the kids can read about their games while it is fresh in their minds. I have had to create a new system to be fair to myself, my family, and those who visit the site.
“The other challenge now is my kids play sports. My son plays baseball and hockey, and my daughter is a cheerleader. With all the practices, games, and the travel, it takes up a lot of time and has done so the last five or six years. Seeing my kids grow up and play is my priority. With all that being said, I do still feel a huge responsibility to the site and the student-athletes at West Haven. I just get up earlier or stay up later.”
While this is impressive in itself, what makes the job done on this site stand out, is Madera does not get paid to do this. He has sponsors which pay for certain fees or upkeep of the site, but it does not generate income as the site does not charge to read content or visit.
There are many reasons for this, and Madera has a clear understanding.
“Honestly, it is very hard to keep going to the same places in town to help be supportive,” Madera said. “This is a local site, so it is hard to go out of West Haven to ask for support. And now you throw in COVID, and it is nearly impossible.
“I wanted to publicize the student-athletes for all the good things they are doing. There is so much negative in this world. They deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments. So that was the biggest reason for the site, and I will never lose sight of that. I’m just trying to do a small part in promoting these kids.”
According to the website, Westie Blue is a site designed to cover West Haven athletics, providing game stories, features, photos, videos, statistics and more. Westie Blue also covers youth leagues with their own seasonal pages.
Through his years of sports coverage and his involvement in the community, Madera has developed relationships with most of the youth leagues in the city. The organizations supply the information and Madera takes it from there, showcasing even the youngest athletes in town.
While this may be impressive to most, Madera is not satisfied, looking to add more content to the website.
“As we move forward, and obviously getting through this pandemic plays a big part in all of this, I would like to get more involved with the junior varsity and freshmen teams,” Madera said. “That takes a lot of time, coordination and effort, but that is something which I will look into working in. For some kids, high school is the last time they will play organized sports. Anything I can do to help them create memories at any level is definitely something I think is worthwhile. I’m all for anything positive for the kids and the community.”
As the pandemic has disrupted play on the youth and high school levels, Madera has prepared behind the scenes by getting the pages ready for the upcoming season, whatever season that may be.
There may not be much going on at the high school or youth sports levels right now, but rest assured, www.westieblue.com and Madera will be ready to go once the players are back on the fields.