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Ketchikan reacts after Juneau cuts travel funds

Posted: September 12, 2013 - 10:51pm  |  Updated: September 13, 2013 - 12:07am

KETCHIKAN — Schoenbar Middle School athletic teams will no longer compete in Juneau if middle school teams from Alaska’s capital do not come to Ketchikan first, Schoenbar Athletic Director Kelly Smith said Wednesday.

Smith spoke to the Daily News one day after the Juneau School District Board of Education voted to ban travel for the district’s middle schools, Floyd Dryden and Dzantik’i Heeni, starting in 2014.

“We’ve set this precedent that if Juneau comes here, then we are willing to go there,” Smith said. “Not if they just promise to come here in the future.”

For example, Smith said Floyd Dryden is invited to participate in the upcoming Schoenbar Shootout basketball tournament in November. If the Juneau school shows up, the Knights of Schoenbar will reciprocate the favor and play in Juneau’s Icebreaker tournament in December.

Schoenbar basketball still will travel to Sitka’s Blatchley Middle School and Petersburg’s Mitkof Middle School this upcoming year, and both schools will come to Ketchikan.

Smith said the School Board’s decision is unfortunate for Juneau’s young athletes, but will not affect Schoenbar athletics substantially.

“It makes things a littler harder on us, but we’re not going to cut programs and it’s not going to force us into any drastic changes,” he said. “We’ll just have to find more opportunities elsewhere.”

The 4-3 vote was met with criticism by many residents who attended the meeting, the Juneau Empire reported.

“I have yet to hear a single voice in favor of this policy — all are strongly against it — so who does a ‘yes’ vote represent?” Floyd Dryden Middle School Principal Tom Milliron asked the board — as reported by the Juneau Empire. “A ‘no’ vote represents our students, parents and community.”

The Juneau Empire reported that School Board President Sally Saddler, who voted in favor of the ban, blamed declining resources: “It’s important we focus and turn our attention to budget issues,” she said. “It’s about our core mission. As resources decline and we retrench ... we have to think ‘what’s our core mission?’”

Dzantik’i Heeni did not travel to Ketchikan at all last year, and Floyd Dryden came to the First City once for the Southeast wrestling championships.

Meanwhile, Schoenbar spent $15,000 for 44 soccer players to travel to Juneau and face both area middle schools last year. The Knights played Floyd Dryden, but Dzantik’i Heeni canceled its game against Schoenbar, leaving the Knights to scrimmage Dryden again — rather than play an official game.

“Floyd Dryden threw together another team for us to play, and we got to play the same amount of games,” Smith said, “but that wasn’t why we went there.”

The ban does not come into effect for another year, but Smith does not anticipate either middle school traveling to Ketchikan in 2013.

“Juneau is on the back burner for our plans,” Smith said. “Our only problem is scheduling. Every day you wait, the price of an Alaska Airlines ticket goes up.”

Juneau’s middle school athletes can play — and travel — on club teams, but that comes with a price.

“Kids that can afford it will play club, but kids that can’t afford to pay will get swept under the rug,” Smith said. “It’s going to become pay-to-play up there, and that’s the unfortunate thing.”

Smith said Schoenbar and other Southeast middle schools are in the process of “crossing that bridge” when it comes to scheduling games against club teams.

Club teams are not held accountable by any school or school district, thus bringing about added liability concerns.

“What if they trash a locker room? Who’s held responsible?” Smith said. “There needs to be rules written down to make sure things like that are covered.”

Juneau parent and business owner Wade Bryson said at the meeting that a lack of travel will affect the development of athletes and their enjoyment of competing for championships.

Smith, who grew up on Prince of Wales Island and coaches the Ketchikan High School girls basketball team, agreed.

“I have friends that I keep in touch with from (all over Southeast) that I housed out with in seventh grade,” Smith said. “As an educator and a coach, you learn more about your kids — and their needs, desires and dreams — on the road than you ever do in a two-hour practice.”

According to the Juneau Empire, attempts to put a sunset clause in the policy and to table it for a few months were rejected.

For now, Schoenbar athletics will continue to move forward with or without Juneau schools on its schedule.

“I’m glad I live in Ketchikan,” Smith said. “This town is amazing. No matter the amount of money, they find a way to make it work for us.

“We don’t want to let that go. We’re the standard.”

(Information form the Juneau Empire was used in this report.)

Contact A.J. Jankowski at sports@ketchikandailynews.com.

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