Key Peninsula Middle School has starring role in new novel

A&E: ‘The Life of Ely’ inspired by author’s time as a student and a teacher in Lakebay

of the GatewayFebruary 12, 2014 

The Peninsula School District and one of its teachers star in a new book by Jason McWhirter.

McWhirter’s “The Life of Ely” is dedicated to Key Peninsula Middle School teacher and wrestling coach Rick Selfors. McWhirter is a teacher at Curtis Junior High in University Place.

“The Life of Ely” is the story of an abused student who is befriended by a caring coach and teacher, loosely based on Selfors, named Mr. Seljin. Selfors has been teaching at KPMS for 34 years.

“He’s just an amazing teacher,” McWhirter said of Selfors. “Somebody that is an advocate for kids.”

Selfors was honored to have a book dedicated to him. He said he’s normally not the kind of guy who reads anything other than manuals — Selfors teaches shop — but, in the case of McWhirter’s book, he couldn’t put it down. He said it left him with tears in his eyes.

“It was really emotional for me,” Selfors said of the book.

The opening scene is set on Vaughn Bay. The main character, 14-year-old Ely Carter, is a student at KPMS, where McWhirter taught for 12 years.

The novel is fiction, but, like many works, is informed by McWhirter’s experience in the classroom and by people he has met.

Selfors said it brought back memories of many students.

“Each page brought back fond, fond memories ... of battles we went through together,” Selfors said.

Selfors taught McWhirter as a student and later became a friend and mentor when McWhirter, at the time a recent Western Washington University graduate, became a KPMS teacher in 1995. He taught at the school for 12 years. His picture is still hanging in the school’s wrestling hall of fame.

McWhirter coached wrestling with Selfors and eventually took over the team. Selfors thought McWhirter was the perfect person for the job.

Selfors said he really enjoyed seeing McWhirter learn about coaching and living the same experiences he had.

Selfors said he might be a little biased, because it’s a book that is firmly set in his world, but he thinks McWhirter’s novel is excellent.

The book is getting rave reviews from KPMS staffers, Selfors said.

“They understand Ely,” he said.

The book was born in the school’s hallways.

McWhirter was inspired by teachers and students alike.

“There’s probably two main inspirations,” McWhirter said. “One of them is just trying to show people the impact that coaches and teachers can have on kids. And also showing that some of these kids and the things that they go through in education. Shedding light on the impact that educators have on kids and on some of the things and issues that students and some adolescents struggle with.”

The book is available at in print and via Kindle. It also is available at CostPlus in Lake Kathryn Village. McWhirter self-publishes through his own company, Twiin Entertainment.

The book isn’t just for Selfors, McWhirter writes in the dedication. It’s for all the teachers and coaches in schools who “work so hard to improve the lives of struggling students, not just by trying to teach them something useful, but also providing support and the tools necessary to build a life for themselves.”

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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