Craig Heyamoto is an anonymous but invaluable fixture in the Seattle sports scene, or more accurately, behind it, a mathematical wizard who has spent nearly four decades heading up local stats crews – and sometimes writing the programs that run the software.
If there is a number to be crunched, a scoring rule to be interpreted, or a Husky broadcast to be enhanced, chances are, Craig Heyamoto has his hand in it.
Heyamoto is an anonymous but invaluable fixture in the Seattle sports scene, or more accurately, behind it, a mathematical wizard who has spent nearly four decades heading up local stats crews — and sometimes writing the programs that run the software.
“He’s a computer, an absolute computer,” said Husky voice Bob Rondeau, who can barely imagine calling a game without Heyamoto nearby, serving as what he calls “my security blanket.”
Husky Hall of Fame
These are the inductees in the 2016 Husky Hall of Fame class. The ceremony will be Sunday.
• Olin Kreutz (football, 1995-97)
• Sara Pickering (softball, 1994-97)
• Nate Robinson (basketball, 2003-05; football 2002)
• Bob Rondeau (radio announcer, 1978-present)
• Sanja Tomasevic (volleyball, 2002-05)
• Brad Walker (track & field, 2002-05)
• Mary Whipple (rowing, 1999-2002)
• 1984 Washington football team
Longtime football stats crew chief Craig Heyamoto will be presented with the Don H. Palmer Award.
If it involves the Seahawks, the Sounders, the Storm, or, especially, his beloved Huskies, the 63-year-old Heyamoto is right in the middle of the action — and has been since his days at Washington’s law school in the mid-1970s.
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Oh, did I mention that Heyamoto is also an attorney — a senior counsel for Boeing since 1983, specializing in commercial contracts and antitrust counseling. He’s UW’s most interesting man in the world, having appeared on both “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in the midst of the hundreds — probably bordering on thousands — of games he’s worked.
You can call him Seattle’s stats guru, but Storm play-by-play man Dick Fain, one of a legion of broadcasters whose work has been aided by Heyamoto’s efforts, realizes that’s not quite strong enough.
“He’s really Seattle’s stats legend,” Fain said.
Rondeau will be among those inducted into the Huskies’ Hall of Fame on Sunday, a fitting reward for his work as the school’s radio announcer since 1978. But it’s also fitting that at the same ceremony, Heyamoto will receive the Don H. Palmer Award, established in 1994 to recognize those who have “exemplified a special commitment to the UW Athletic Department.”
You want to talk special commitment? Heyamoto donates all the money he gets for his various sporting ventures into an endowment for a scholarship in his name that goes to a University of Washington student who works in the Sports Information Department.
“It’s just a small repayment for what the university has done for me,” Heyamoto said.
Heyamoto has been the stats crew chief for Husky football since 1977. He’s done stats for Husky basketball even longer — since 1975. That’s when Heyamoto, a math major as a UW undergraduate, was taking a business computing class where the project was to design a business-oriented piece of software.
“I convinced the professor that keeping track of baskets and steals and fouls was similar to an inventory system,” Heyamoto said. “So he let me write a basketball stat-keeping program.”
The Huskies promptly used Heyamoto’s program, believed to be the first of its kind in college athletics. Washington director of communications Jeff Bechtold still has an old, curled-up printout of Heyamoto’s stats from John Wooden’s last loss, which occurred at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in ’75.
Heyamoto has been the Seahawks’ stats crew chief since 1982, after starting out as a crew sub in their inaugural season of 1976. He did stats for the Sonics’ visiting television crews from 1995 until their departure. He’s done the Storm since 2000, and the Sounders since 2009.
But he’s most identified with the Huskies, having also worked on stats for their women’s basketball team since 1986. Heyamoto and Rondeau are neighbors in Normandy Park, where they grow tomatoes together, and close partners on Husky broadcasts since 1980.
For home football games, Heyamoto and his crew — which includes his brother, Gary, a dentist and UW grad; (another brother, Brian, also a UW grad and recently retired from Boeing, is on the Seahawks crew) — compile the official stats. Heyamoto also attends most Husky road games — on his own dime — to sit in the booth as Rondeau’s stat man.
Although the home team provides the official stats, Rondeau prefers to use Heyamoto’s while on the road.
“He’s more valuable and more accurate than whatever stat system is in whatever stadium we’re in,” Rondeau said. “Sometimes, those systems break down. Craig never breaks down.”
And the two have developed such a rapport over the years that Heyamoto knows just what sort of trends Rondeau is looking for, and constantly slips him notes with that information.
“The game moves faster than ever before with all the no-huddle offenses,” Rondeau said. “You don’t have a lot of time to explain what you need, nor he what he has. That symbiotic relationship is invaluable.”
Heyamoto is legendary for his preparation, which includes studying press notes and media coverage.
“He’s come up with probably anywhere from two to a half dozen notes that are nowhere else to be found, and germane to the game,” Rondeau said. “He has them on sticky notes on the ready for when the need arises.”
Heyamoto will even watch video of the upcoming opponent for pertinent information. For instance, in advance of Saturday’s game against Oregon State, Heyamoto noticed on film that on their fly sweep, the Beavers sometimes flip the ball forward rather than a straight handoff. That can be the difference between a run and a pass, with obvious statistical ramifications, so he’ll put his crew on alert.
Another Heyamoto hallmark is his encyclopedic knowledge of the stat rules, which can be arcane — and vary from college to pro. For instance, sacks in college count as a minus rush for the quarterback, while in pro, they are negative against the team passing yards. He moves seamlessly between the two sets of rules, due in large part to the study he puts in.
Heyamoto’s devotion to the Huskies was planted at the age of 7, in 1960, when his father, Hiromu, sat him in front of the television to watch the Rose Bowl between Washington and Wisconsin. He told his son, “We’re going to root for Washington.”
Said Heyamoto: “I kind of fell in love with Washington that day.”
Hiromu Heyamoto, who died in 2010, grew up in Oregon and played baseball at UW in 1949-50, but not before he was rounded up after World War II broke out, along with other Japanese-Americans, and placed in the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho. That’s where he met his future wife, Masue.
As a means to get out of the camp, Heyamoto volunteered to join the army, serving in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised almost exclusively of Japanese-Americans and the most decorated regiment in the U.S. Army in World War II. Shipped off to Italy, Heyamoto earned a bronze star and a purple heart.
Asked if his father expressed any bitterness over his internment, Heyamoto replied: “He never said. He didn’t really talk much about the war. I’ve always assumed if he was bitter, he wouldn’t have volunteered to fight. I think that was true of all Japanese-Americans who fought.”
A graduate of Highline High School in Burien, Heyamoto wasn’t much of an athlete, but he cut his teeth on stats working the scorebook for his dad’s Little League teams. Stats have been in his blood ever since — even when he’s watching a game on television in his leisure time.
“This will sound really nerdy, but I generally have my laptop set up to watch the stat crew that’s working,” he said. “Part of being a good statistician is knowing different plays that could come up.”
Heyamoto calculates that he’s attended, watched, listened to or followed online all but two Husky football games since that Rose Bowl in 1960. On both occasions, he was tied up doing stats for national television broadcasts, which he also does as a fill-in on occasion.
Heyamoto’s Washington stats crew — which includes Gary Heyamoto calling the defensive stats, Theresa Ripp calling the offensive stats, Bryan Thorn handling the computer input, Lisa Krikava writing down the stats manually as a backup, plus a revolving group of student helpers that Heyamoto patiently mentors — has worked the Rose Bowl since 2009.
They also have done the national championship game for several years and will again this year. If Washington’s in it, Heyamoto will keep his professional decorum, which he prides himself on — “but in our hearts, you can kind of guess which way we would be going,” he said with a smile.
In the stat booth, Heyamoto is the conductor of the whole operation, calling out the yardage, decisively interpreting the rules, and making sure it all flows smoothly.
“He’s completely dedicated to his craft, and he’s a perfectionist,” said Dan Lepse, the assistant athletic director and SID at Seattle Pacific, who has worked extensively on Heyamoto’s stat crew.
Heyamoto even sparked an NCAA rule change in basketball. He felt it was wrong for players to get charged with a shot attempt on desperation heaves at the end of a half, so he lobbied the NCAA. They agreed, and such heaves no longer count as a shot, unless they go in.
“That’s the Heyamoto rule,” said Lepse.
Heyamoto says he models his craft on Don James, the Husky coach when he started working on the UW stats crew.
“I really admired Coach James and the way he did things,’’ he said. “Thorough preparation, coach the coaches; in other words, help my teammates understand what they need to do. And then let them do what they do, and I do what I do.”
Heyamoto’s predecessor as chief of the Husky stats crew held the job for 40 years, and Heyamoto is closing fast on 40 years. He doesn’t see an end in sight, jokingly pointing to a member of Virginia’s stat crew, Dr. John Risher, still working at 106.
“I tell myself I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can keep doing it at the level the teams deserve, and that I feel is up to my standards,” he said.
The benefits, he says, are a sense of camaraderie with his crew, being part of the sports scene, and the mental challenge of unraveling the fast-moving and often complex stats matrix. And all the while being unfailingly polite, cordial and helpful.
“It’s a way to measure your own ability to do things,” Heyamoto said. “In other words, the team might not be playing very well, but at least you can do your job. And when the team is playing well, all the better.”