When Westport, like many other parts of the country, went into a quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic six months ago, it turned to the high school boys soccer coach during a time of anxiety and confusion for the latest information.
When tropical storm Isaiah left much of Westport in the dark for a week last month, it was the onetime state high school boys soccer Coach of the Year who provided some light in terms of closures, where to find food and roadways that were impassible due to falling trees.
And if there is a topical story to tell about former or current town residents like Paul Newman, Rod Serling or Martha Stewart, you will find it on the 06880 website — subtitled “Where Westport meets the world” — Dan Woog’s 11-plus-year passion work.
“In the beginning I didn’t know if anyone would read it, and I was very fortunate that I sent it to a couple of people who sent it to all their contacts,” said Woog, whose varied resume cannot be condensed into just a page or two. “Within a couple of days I had over 100 subscribers. I was really lucky that way.”
That number has grown to nearly 11,000 — many living outside the borders of Westport, which has a population of about 28,000. It was founded for pragmatic reasons by Woog, who for readers here is best known as the Staples boys soccer coach for 17 years, but could be most familiar to others for a variety of reasons.
Woog’s World has been a weekly staple in the Westport News since 1986 — Woog has written for the paper since he was a sophomore at Staples, at one point covering the team he now coaches — but in 2009 foresaw where outlets for town news was headed.
“I looked around at the landscape of local journalism and I wanted to continue to have a voice,” Woog said. “Someone said you should try blogging and I said I could never do that. They suggested looking at WordPress and I really liked it. Over a weekend I taught myself and I really like the immediacy of it, I like that stories can be any length. I can write the words in my sleep. Sometimes I’d have to cut stuff or pad stuff. Now I didn’t have to. I love the fact it’s image driven, the fact that it’s interactive and you can really have a conversation. And it’s fun.”
Woog is the Cal Ripken of blogging — there has been a post on 06880 every day since its launch. The posts are varied — readers wake up to a longform feature or human interest story. There is breaking and informative news — today the 06880 world learned that Wynton Marsalis will be playing a socially distanced concert in Westport next month.
The last post is the Pic of the Day, a photograph often contributed by one of the many readers who will submit content, provide Woog with hat tips and who are always willing to have a voice in the crammed comments section.
“I rely a lot on readers, I rely a lot on people suggesting ideas, some which are great and some which are ridiculous,” Woog said. “It has sort of grown organically and I will never run out of ideas. This town has too many things going on, too many interesting people and too many opinions. Everyone’s got one. It’s very, very fertile ground and I’m very fortunate.”
Other regular features include a photo challenge, art gallery, Friday Flashback and Unsung Hero.
“Particularly with the decline and near death of local journalism, it’s really important for people in a community to know where to turn,” Woog said. “I understand that’s an obligation to a community to give them information and have them trust it.”
Woog played on the Staples soccer team and in 1975 co-founded the Westport Soccer Association. He coached at different age levels and became the Wreckers’ freshman soccer coach when 9th graders entered the high school in 1993. He went on to become the junior varsity coach and then Jeff Lea’s varsity assistant. When Lea retired in 2003, Woog became just the third coach in the program’s history.
The Wreckers have won one state and four league titles under Woog. (Not surprisingly, Woog also oversees one of the best and most complete high school team websites.)
Woog has written 16 books — five on soccer — and his freelance work has appeared in a number of national publications. He also is employed in a variety of capacities at Staples.
But most Westporters probably best know Woog through the website that has as its title the town’s zip code.
This year 06880 has never been more vital than over the past six months. When the town first quarantined, Woog said he worked 12-14 hour days.
“What’s open, what’s closed, what are people doing, what are the rules, who is doing what, who is helping who, how can you help,” Woog said of those earliest posts. “They were really long days, which I hadn’t anticipated. Everybody was doing something and I was grateful to be able to do my part.”
Even now, Woog still posts a daily roundup of news that is COVID related.
Woog said there is one subject that is among his favorite sources for material.
“I really do like trying to shine a light on Staples kids,” Woog said. “What they’re doing, how they’re doing it, whether it’s creating an app or raising money for something.”
One thing you won’t often find on 06880 is Staples sports news.
“There are still sports pages in the media, there is still The Ruden Report and I don’t want to become a sports page,” Woog said. “So I stay away from that. I do much more with Staples kids with the arts and theater, robotics and all that. I do not want to promote the Staples soccer team. I do not think it’s my job to do that, though I am always happy when they win a national academic award to do something about that. I try to keep those two lives separate as much as I can.”
Woog does not accept advertising. There is an area for donations on the homepage and Woog holds a PBS-style fundraiser each March, the month 06880 went live.
Woog puts in six to eight hours a day to make sure his readers are both enlightened and entertained. He succeeds on all fronts, and that time is a labor of love.
“When I picked that tagline ‘Where Westport meets the world,’ I didn’t think much about it, but it gave me a really good focus to find anything with any connection to Westport: trends, events, history, people, people who live here, people who once lived here, people who have wandered through here,” Woog said. “Anything with a Westport connection I could write about. I didn’t really think where it would take me, but it’s taken me to a lot of interesting places. A lot of interesting corners of the world.
“I didn’t know where I was going but I’m having a great time growing with it along with the audience.”