From lightning up teams on the basketball court these last two seasons for the Highline Thunderbirds to committing to Aurora University in Illinois to continue his basketball career about a week ago, Nathan Yockey is more than just a student-athlete.
He is also a writer.
“I began writing super young, before I started playing basketball,” Yockey said. “Writing was my first passion. It started with a lot of short stories about where I lived in Alaska.”
And with the assistance of Highline professor Susan Rich, he recently took up poetry as well.
“Then I ventured out into poetry when my teachers saw that I had an interest and challenged me to try new things with my writing,” he said.
Yockey’s poem, Dead Light Switch, took home first place in Highline’s 2020 Student Poetry Contest.
As part of the contest, the student-athlete was one of 51 student writers who submitted 101 different poems throughout the fall and winter quarters.
In short, the poem draws inspiration from a trailer home that Yockey’s mom got from a friend.
Initially, it was “pretty old” and “not in great shape,” but the Yockeys were ecstatic to have a roof over their heads that was both “permanent” and theirs.
Over time, Yockey’s family was able to have the financial means to renovate the trailer.
Eventually, it got “better and better” and became more spacious. However, there was something by the front door that caught the Yockey’s attention growing up.
“There was this light switch by the front door that never worked. I remember going up to it when I was younger and trying to flick it on and off, but it didn’t do anything,” he said. “And there was no plastic cover around the outside and all the wires inside were exposed and rusted.”
“And with all the improvements that we made in the trailer, that we still live in today, that light switch is still exactly the same as it was the day we moved in,” Yockey said.
“I thought it represented the progress we made as a family, but served as a reminder of where we came from and all the obstacles my parents overcame to make my brother and I happy and successful.”
The Poetry Contest committee was very impressed.
“[They] really liked how Nathan created emotions through imagery for an often-overlooked, everyday object,” said members of the National Poetry Month Poetry Contest Selection Committee via Highline’s website. “We also liked the honesty, vulnerability and surprise this poem contains.”
Already busy as a student-athlete, Yockey still finds time to incorporate writing into his schedule.
“I write all the time, during season and after,” he said. “It’s a good way for me to organize my thoughts and decompress when classes or basketball is overwhelming.”
Speaking of classes, Yockey says that he welcomes the stigma that athletes aren’t as bright in the classroom as they are in athletics
“It’s always nice to see the surprise when people find out that I write poetry or that I have good grades when they form an image of me because I’m a college athlete,” he said. “It’s nice to change the narrative surrounding athletes and basketball players being an exception to the ‘norm.’
Between writing and basketball, Yockey says that there’s a huge difference so that makes it difficult to compare the two as far as which one he enjoys more.
“It’s a different kind of passion,” he said. “I wouldn’t say one is stronger than the other. Basketball is a great way for me to clear my mind and let out some of the darker emotions, the stress, the anxiety and the anger in a way that’s constructive and healthy.”
As for writing, he mentioned that it’s a way for him to organize his thoughts and express himself in a creative manner.
“It’s important for me to have some way to express myself creatively along with having basketball to clear my plate, so to speak, and not think about anything sometimes,” Yockey said.
With so much passion for the two, Yockey wants to stay involved with both basketball and poetry in some capacity in the future.
“I hope to be involved with both writing and basketball,” he said. “I don’t hope to pursue either as a career. I hope to use them both together the same way I do now, working in tandem to help relieve stress and be a way I can express myself creatively.”