From a little Norwegian community to the south, weighing 170 pounds, standing 5 foot 11 inches and wearing 51 years of age, your new Juneau Empire Sports Editor:
Just because I don’t hit it, kick it, throw it, run it or apply Ben Gay after doing it doesn’t mean I do not consider it a sport. So I am open to suggestions.
I played basketball in an era where my hair was longer than my jersey shorts, a lay-up was more coveted than a dunk and I relied on a hook shot because I was an undersized forward.
Growing up, I wanted to wear the PSG Vikings blue and white, a thread or two from indecency or not, because it was in those too tight, too heavy, and made-in-America knits that I could be part of a team. The same team I watched battle the Crimson Bears, Kayhi Kings, Wolves from both Wrangell and Sitka, Glacier Bears, Braves and Prince Rupert Rainmakers.
It was in those circa ’70’s shorts I could feel the rush of cheering from the bench, or scoring a basket, or discovering that, unlike little league, you don’t wear the cup when you put the jockstrap on for basketball.
In my day it was dog-eat-dog hoops. If you wanted to beat Juneau or Ketchikan you played all summer, you shoveled snow off the only outdoor court in the winter and you watched two-week tape-delay sports from Seattle on the town’s only black and white television.
I learned sports from playing, and learned playing from coaches, and learned coaching from being a good sport.
Our little league home runs would bounce off the high school gym roof because it was just 10 feet past first base, or they would roll into the muskeg in the out field because we had no fence. No games were rained out. Our hats would droop like wet towels, hit balls would stop in mud puddles or bounce off stray rocks into our faces. We never saw a curve ball until playing All-Stars against Juneau.
In middle school I learned the value of defense by playing non-stop games of one-on-one basketball in the summers against my idol, a young man who held the state high school single game scoring record of 69 points until a few seasons ago (and he did that with no three-point line).
When you play defense against a college player who is just a few years past the date he set the mark, you do only that … you play defense. You never get the ball in a make-it take-it game because he never misses. He was 5-foot 8-inches mean. So I can appreciate the undersized.
I learned that, in two-on-two, if I played defense and rebounded, my idol and I would never lose. And we never did lose a series, because if we lost one game we challenged for a rematch until we won. So I can appreciate being steadfast.
I also appreciate that my favorite teammate only played 45 seconds his entire career.
I can also appreciate ‘reliving the glory years’ and losing to the No. 1 Anchorage seed at the state basketball tournament my junior and senior years, then cheering for Juneau in those championship games even though it was the dreaded ‘black and red’ that kept me from a Region Title. I did get my revenge a few years ago when the Vikings won the 3A title and then nipped the Crimson Bears for the crossover title and then captured a state championship. So I can appreciate desire.
I appreciate that soccer players run and run and run and run and use the ball on their feet in such a manner that I cannot do so with my hands.
I like when the underdog wins a big game and when the top dog continues dominance yet stays a grand sportsman.
I appreciate the rebound in basketball and the pick-and-roll. I admire the front line in football when they kneel forward with their hands pressed into the grass or turf. I smile when a triple axel is landed, when an inverted twist is stuck or when a one-armed surfer climbs back onto her board.
I love that the last swimmer to touch the wall is applauded as loudly as the first. I always seek out the sound of a tennis ball smacking against a tightly strung racket. I listen to the bleachers retracting in a gymnasium. I read the fight songs on school’s walls.
I think ballet dancers are some of the greatest athletes in the world and golfers are not. And I can’t do either and will write about both.
And I will gladly suck it up and caddy for any golfer because I think that would be a good workout.
And I am glad I never tattooed the name of my high school or college mascot on my butt. I can appreciate the backwards hat and baggy pants style, it is just not my era. Do what you do but just be able to play defense.
I know runners who can scamper from the Federal Building, up Perseverance Trail, up Mount Juneau Trail, along the Juneau Ridge, down Granite Creek and back in under two and one half hours.
Most importantly I know that I cannot write about Juneau sports myself. I can take bits and pieces and help us get to the finish line but I need my teammates there. I need you to tell me what you like, what your sons and daughters are up to at college, what your local Gastineau Little League team did, what you like to do.
I am on your team and I hope you let me play, or at least remind me when to wear the cup and when to wear the athletic supporter.