|03-01-2004, 12:23 PM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Boy, playing HS sports in Alaska....takes dedication
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/01/sp...l?pagewanted=3 (From the NY Times)
March 1, 2004
In Alaska, Getting There Is Half the Fun
By BILL PENNINGTON
BETHEL, Alaska — It took 90 minutes at sea in a small boat, five hours driving in two vans and 75 minutes on a commuter jet before the boys and girls basketball teams from Seldovia reached Bethel, a remote town in western Alaska.
When the players stepped off the jet onto the Bethel tarmac, as flat as the tundra enveloping it, the late-afternoon temperature was 38 degrees below zero.
Seldovia's players would stay for four nights, sleeping on classroom floors at the local high school, to play three basketball games in a round-robin tournament.
Joining them were teams from Unalakleet, a village of about 800 people on the Bering Sea, and Homer, a port town like Seldovia in the state's south-central maritime wilderness.
"I feel sorry for those kids back East who just have to drive 20 minutes to the next suburb for a game," said Nikki Dill of Unalakleet. "How boring."
And so went another typical week in Alaskan high school sports, where to play something as routine as a basketball or volleyball game, hundreds of teams habitually crisscross a mammoth state on jets, marine ferries, vans and even caravans of snowmobiles.
They do it at great cost — Bethel's high school athletic travel budget exceeds $200,000 — and they do it with striking aplomb despite inherent dangers. An unexpected blizzard a few years ago forced a Bethel team returning from a game by snowmobile to spend the night outdoors beneath the emergency tarp of a survival kit.
They do it, Alaska's high school athletes say, because the challenges are part of the fun of playing school sports.
"I have seen so much culturally, met so many different people, and the long trips let me bond with my teammates," Dill said. "Where is the hardship?"
Alaska's interscholastic sports map is probably without rival anywhere in the athletic world.
Consider that its westernmost sports conference includes not only Bethel and Unalakleet but also villages like Unalaska on the Aleutian island chain and the Arctic Ocean port of Barrow.
The distance from Unalaska to Barrow, annual regional rivals, is roughly equal to the distance from Miami to Boston.
Unalaska is so far away and its weather so fickle, few teams want to go there, leading to another odd custom of school sports life in the state: Unalaska pays other high schools to come play against its students.
The teams on Kodiak Island do the same thing.
"We give them about $3,000 to come," said Pat Costello, Kodiak High School's wrestling coach. "What difference does it make? It would cost us about $3,000 in airfare to go play them."
In the southeast part of the state, at Ketchikan High they frequently offer teams $3,000 and throw in harbor tours, halibut feeds and a promise to put up every visiting athlete in a private home.
"But it seems like we are still the ones usually traveling," Rick Collins, Ketchikan's wrestling coach, said.
Ketchikan has one of the state's largest high schools and yet a short, so-called road trip involves a 36-hour ferry ride to Juneau. The bunks for the voyage are sleeping bags on the ferry deck.
"Lots of card games," Collins said. "Our kids have gotten really good at hearts."
A Far-Flung Enterprise
The challenge of Alaska's high school sports structure is not just its geographic and weather extremes, and the daunting travel logistics they impose. The state's population is roughly 640,000 spread across more than 572,000 square miles, or nearly one-sixth the land mass of the United States. More than 100 Alaskan high schools have fewer than 50 students.
In the Bethel area, the school district is geographically about the size of Ohio. At the district's 23 schools, some basketball teams have the minimum number of players needed to start a game, five. And that starting five may consist of girls and boys.
It is not uncommon for basketball games in this part of the state to end with one team fielding only three players, because two have fouled out. State championships have been won in the division of the smallest Alaska schools by teams that finished the title game with four players. They are the real-life "Hoosiers," legends of the Alaskan bush, which is defined as any school in a town that cannot be reached by car, places like Seldovia and Unalakleet.
These are just additional hurdles in a frequently harsh environment, and like most other obstacles confronting Alaskans, they do not seem to overly trouble anyone.
At Lumen Christi Catholic High School south of Anchorage, 18-year-old Jonas Musgrave said he has been shoveling off his driveway since he was 6 so he could practice shooting at the family basketball hoop. He does this unless it is colder than 20 degrees below zero.
"Until then, it's not really that cold," Musgrave said. "The one problem is, the ball won't bounce. The cold takes the air out of the ball. But you can still shoot."
All over Alaska, there are stories of such perseverance in extreme or unusual conditions. In the southeast, Haines did not have flat space in mountainous terrain, so it used the municipal airport runway for high school track meets. Which was suitable until an aircraft with engine trouble made an emergency landing on the eve of the 110-meter hurdles, wiping out half the school's hurdle supply. Undaunted, Haines started running meets on the state highway in front of the school. The local police halted traffic to allow the events to continue.
In the 1980's, Costello was the wrestling coach at New Stuyahok, where the high school had 18 students.
"One year at New Stuyahok, Pat had a heavyweight wrestler, but none of the other schools in the area did," said Dudley Homelvig, the wrestling coach at Nome High School. "So when New Stuyahok came to town, every coach in the region wrestled that kid instead. We didn't want to leave the kid out in the cold. Well, that's not what I mean. I mean, we improvised."
They do the same in volleyball, where 60 state schools play a popular co-ed version called mixed six. In ice hockey, many of the teams play in outdoor rinks. Keeping good ice is not a problem, but getting the whole schedule played sometimes is, because Alaska has a rule that no outdoor game can start if it is colder than minus-15 degrees.
"We're not crazy about that rule," said Tim Delaney, athletic director at Kenai Central High, 100 miles down the Cook Inlet from Anchorage.
"Minus 15 isn't really that cold. Shoot, we practice in it all the time."
No School Too Small
There is one rule that Alaska state school sports officials would not consider: excluding village schools, no matter how small. The opportunity for everyone, regardless of how distant the island community or how deep into the arctic plains the school may be, is ingrained in the culture.
Everything in these small towns and villages is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Bethel, for example, has a Subway sandwich shop. The cars parked outside, while empty, usually have their engines running sothe car remains warm, even after a 30-minute stop inside. It is not as if someone is going to steal a car; where would they go? There are no roads out of Bethel.
During the Bethel basketball tournament from Feb. 5 through Feb. 7, Nikki Dill, who was inside Bethel Regional High awaiting a game, acknowledged that the Alaska of her grandparents, with whom she is still close, is subtly disappearing. "I listen to the elders and have heard the stories about them cutting the ice from the river so they could melt it and have water to live," she said. "I have heard about the hunting and fishing to subsist. Nowadays, we complain about the smallest things. There is change. I don't, you know, understand too many words in our native language."
Dill had plenty of opportunities to hear her native language during the games at Bethel, when the local crowd filled the 1,200-seat high school gym. It was a pulsating atmosphere, with a representative audience for an area that is 87 percent native. There were occasional chants in Yupik, a native Eskimo tongue.
"And sometimes I know they are cursing the referee in Yupik," Karl Pulliam, the Seldovia boys coach, said. "But because the ref isn't Yupik, somehow it doesn't matter."
The cost for the most wide-ranging, multifarious interscholastic sports enterprise in the United States is staggering, especially since in most Alaskan schools, as much as 40 percent of the money has to be raised by the athletes and coaches.
In the halcyon days of oil production from the Alaskan north slope pipeline, the state paid for much if not all travel. These days, many school districts frequently pay no more than half or two-thirds of athletic costs, especially since they often have to send teachers with the teams on long trips to help the students keep up their studies.
It is not unusual for Alaskan high school teams to have to come up with anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 just to play their regular season. Qualifying for a state tournament is a mixed blessing; it may mean raising another $10,000.
"I used to tell my kids who wanted to come out for basketball that they had to play defense, play offense and fund-raise," Billy Strickland, Bethel's dean of students and a former basketball coach, said.
Almost every Alaska high school team, from soccer to softball, runs raffles, bake and rummage sales, and silent auctions. Some of the state's 24 football teams have to raise $1,500 per player. It is part of the covenant every player agrees to when he signs up to play.
"You get used to it," Strickland said with a shrug, the same mannerism often employed when someone here is asked to explain how people adapt to the arctic temperatures. "The community understands that without their help, the athletic department dries up and goes away. So they help out."
'This Is Their Time to Shine'
For a host of reasons, the Alaskan high school athlete truly has to want to play sports. And the overwhelming majority play for the most basic reasons.
"I think it's more pure," Nikki Dill said. "We are playing a game, not pursuing a career. We are trying to have fun, not trying to get a scholarship."
Gary Matthews, the executive director of the state athletics and activities association, said, "There is no money or college scholarships at the end of the rainbow for all but a very few of these kids."
Every year, some Alaskan athletes get offers to play at major colleges in what Alaskans call "the lower 48." The level of play in Alaska high schools is good, but it is awfully hard to get noticed outside of the big cities, and there really is only one of those, Anchorage.
Carlos Boozer of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the N.B.A. attended high school in Juneau, but he is such a rarity that his game-by-game statistics are a daily feature in the Anchorage Daily News. Center Scott Gomez of the Devils is an Anchorage native. They are exceptions in three decades of Alaskan scholastic competition.
"Our kids don't play A.A.U. basketball and they don't go to Nike camps," Strickland said. "Come on, there are no travel teams, no all-star teams. You play here, in your town. And our kids, deep in their hearts, know that high school games will be the best ball they will play in their lives. This is their time to shine."
Whether suffering from jet lag or sea legs, the Seldovia boys basketball team waited days to find its moment to shine in Bethel. Seldovia's first two tournament games were lopsided losses. However, in the final game, Seldovia upset Unalakleet, a perennial power among small schools.
"I was proud of the guys for hanging in there," Karl Pulliam, the coach, said. That was a pretty good win for us."
The team could not get out of Bethel until the following evening, its fifth day in town. Then, after landing in Anchorage, the team considered beginning its drive. Pulliam said driving after midnight meant fewer moose crossing the roads, but there were concerns about the late hour, and the players and coaches stayed in a hotel instead.
The next morning at 6:30, they began the five-hour drive to the port of Homer. There, after boarding a waiting boat, the team just beat a nasty storm of high winds and driving rain into the Seldovia harbor.
"We had icy roads, and the firehouse flooded," Pulliam said, describing the scene in his village of about 300 people. "I went down and helped bail out a couple of boats."
Although the winds were gusting at 45 miles an hour, Pulliam was still planning basketball practice that afternoon. Seldovia had another away game that weekend.
"I don't think the storm will be a problem for that trip," Pulliam said. "We're only going 45 miles across the bay to Ninilchik. We'll get there. One way or the other, we'll get there."
|03-01-2004, 12:52 PM||#2|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Temple City!
Goodness....Trajan Langdon was from Alaska right? They have a top rated combo guard thats a senior too this year...Mario Chalmers
Richard Karstark - Ruler of Karhold - Bannerman of House Stark
KKiTTLeS21: UCLA r0x d00d, #1
|03-01-2004, 02:17 PM||#3|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Yeah, he was but he like Boozer were from the city.. so I think they probably have it easier travelwise, etc.
I didn't realize this was a double post... my bad
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