One setback became a blessing in disguise for 16-year-old sports journalist

October 6, 2017 began like any other day for Jake Weingarten. He got up shortly before 8 AM for classes at Bayside High School and signed onto Twitter, in hopes of seeing an announcement from a college basketball recruit. That was when Weingarten spotted a little blue dot in Twitter’s notifications section. His Twitter account had become verified. (The blue verified badge on Twitter lets users know that an account of public interest is authentic. It is often given to important individuals in politics, journalism, sports, entertainment and many other interest areas.)

“I was going nuts,” Weingarten said about the moment. “A couple of kids in school that I don’t really know that follow me even noticed it, and they congratulated me at school.”

As a young, rising sports journalist at age 16, Weingarten is still learning his way through the sports journalism industry and has inevitably encountered successes, as well as obstacles. However, setbacks have only fueled his motivation and led to new opportunities.

Weingarten, a Queens native, has been writing about sports for around two years. His passion for sports comes from his uncle, Steve Sterby, who has been a sports columnist at the New York Post for 16 years.

“I’m going to dinner with him, and everyone would know who he is,” Weingarten said about his uncle. “They’re like, ‘Oh, [he’s] a legend!’ And I just want to be like that.”

With some help from Serby along the way, Weingarten has written about a variety of sports and interviewed popular athletes. He has bounced around numerous sports blogs, including Elite Sports NY, where he covered the New York Rangers. After a very short stint with Elite Sports NY, Weingarten shifted to covering basketball, writing about the NBA. He covered the Washington Wizards at SB Nation’s Bullets Forever for nine months before changing course to high school and college basketball. It was the atmosphere at a Duke Blue Devils men’s basketball game — reporters and writers having a fun time and cheering from the stands — that stood out to him and inspired him to cover basketball at the ameteur level.

“He knows more about basketball — high school and college — than I do, and I’m in the business,” Serby, 68, said about his nephew.

Weingarten is widely recognized for his Twitter updates about top high school athletes (whom he calls “kids” even when some of them are older than him). In addition to his extensive high school and college basketball coverage, at Bayside, Weingarten plays varsity baseball and does “tons of community service.” Since the day he received his blue checkmark on Twitter, a few Bayside students have even referred to him as “Twitter verified boy.”

However, that day was not momentous for only positive reasons. Just the night before, Weingarten tweeted that he would not count out the University of Illinois on landing Landers Nolley, a recruit from Langston Hughes High School. The following morning — the same day Weingarten achieved Twitter verification status — Nolley announced the final two colleges he was considering. The University of Illinois was not one of them. Weingarten immediately dealt with blowback from Illinois fans.

“People were sending me nasty messages like, ‘F you. He wasn’t in the final two. You said he had a chance to be,’” Weingarten said. The animosity from Illinois fans ballooned so much that Weingarten tweeted out an apology and decided to take a break from writing.

At the time of the incident, Weingarten was writing for Rivals, a website well-respected for its college sports coverage. When the 16-year-old returned from his writing hiatus, Rivals decided not to take him back, and it was time for Weingarten to move on to the next stage of his sports writing career. With support from some people who believed it was a mistake for Rivals to let him go, Weingarten decided to start StockRisers, his own website for high school basketball coverage. He launched StockRisers on October 30, and the site features new interviews with high school basketball players daily.

“My main goal at StockRisers is to raise these players’ stocks, to get them out there on the map, to get them the exposure they need,” said Weingarten. Within the first two days, Weingarten’s pieces accumulated over 400 views, which he pointed out are “more than some blogs have.”

Thus, the turn of events with Illinois fans actually resulted in a blessing in disguise. “I wouldn’t call [not returning to Rivals] a complete setback because at the end of the day, if I didn’t have that setback, I wouldn’t have my own site right now,” he said.

This is a testament to how Weingarten has learned to embrace failure. “He doesn’t let disappointment get him down,” said Zach Braziller, 36, a general assignment sports reporter at the New York Post who met Weingarten through Serby. “He’s always looking for the next thing… the next opportunity.”

In terms of more pressing “next opportunities,” Weingarten has been visiting colleges he could potentially attend after he graduates from Bayside. Considering the fact that he is only a junior in high school, he admitted, “it’s a little early in the process to disclose,” though he already has an idea of what he would like to study. “Journalism’s obviously one, but I want to look into reporting and media,” he said.

At such a young age, Weingarten understands there is still a lot up in the air over his future, but that does not deter him. “I have so many goals, and I’m so confident that I’m going to achieve them,” he added. “I really think every goal I have set is going to be achieved by the time I’m older.”

Most importantly, Weingarten hopes his early success and quick rise, despite his mistakes, will prove to everyone that age is just a number.

“I want to become an inspiration to others,” said Weingarten. “Starting at such a young age, it’s either I’m getting questioned by people on social media or getting encouraged to keep going. I just want others, even no matter the age, just to start doing what you love.”

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