The All Blacks win!

So the All Blacks are finally back on top. Though battered and bruised, the New Zealand rugby team beat France 8-7 in the World Cup yesterday, or last night, or early this morning (there is some time zone involved) in Auckland.


Why do I care?

I am not really sure. I appreciate 200-pound plus individuals scrumming en masse, I guess; or flyhalf’s and scrumhalf’s (actual position names) limping back and forth during the test (their name for game/match/contest), on and off the field with their only protective padding being long pulled up socks, fearlessness, ego and love of country.

I don’t understand the “ghosting” that sets up a “maneuver” but do appreciate when the “wing three-quarters” receives the ball (yay! I understand that term) and “goose steps” to score a “try”, he doesn’t gyrate his pelvis, point at the camera or start courting his next contract.

And I like that an infraction, such as, say, a “Chicken-wing,” is deemed “contrary to the true spirit of the game,” yet the “grapple tackle” (impeding the ball carrier by applying a choke hold) is harder to enforce. A “chicken-wing,” by the way, is a shoulder lock wrestling technique used to slow the play-the-ball (restart of play) and places undue pressure on joints.

And how can you not appreciate a sport that, although forbidden, reverts to the “cavalry charge.” A tactic where, as one player runs forward with the ball, his teammates charge in rank behind him. Hilarious! That cannot bode well for the ball carrier.

Moments of clarity in life may happen many times, for no apparent reason, often when you are doubting yourself, feeling sorry for yourself or questioning the value of what you do.

As a sports writer, I remember countless instances where the observance of others’ love of sport has been what propelled me forward.

In Turin, Italy, during the Winter Olympics, as temperatures dipped to uncomfortable lows, even for a multi-layered and padded Associated Press Alaskan, one such moment ensued.

Trudging with camera gear down a snowy tree-lined path, amid words in languages I did not understand, to reach the finals of the men’s 50K cross country ski event (I missed the media bus) — my feet numbing, my fingers icy, my nose layered with frozen droplets, I contemplated calling the shoot off.

Then I saw them — a line of thousands of fans from every nation in the colors of their countries, ringing cowbells, singing, pressing ever forward to root for their favorites.

I had been among them for two miles.

I encountered something similar amid the more than 30 volleyball teams at Thunder Mountain for Saturday’s 4 vs. 4 tourney in the Falcons’ gym. Here were athletes, competitors and lovers of sport. I fed off that energy.

River Bend teachers Mimi Mesdag, Shannon Averson, Rachel Heinman and Shauna Puustinen beat Thunder Mountain’s “Squad team” of junior’s Bercem Eren, Megan Punongbayan, sophomore Sammy Haight and freshman Laura Coleman to win the lower division final.

Team Hannah’s Hannah Barril, Lesley Kalbrener, Sarah Christianson and Amber Campbell dropped the championship match to Team Boing’s Ginger Nizich, Brandee Gerke, Megan Buzby and Sammy Roguska.

In earlier action Kalbrener spiked a shot into the face of Falcons’ baller Keith Ainsworth, twice; and Ainsworth blocked one with his hands later, which is a feat in itself considering his vertical always puts his head above the net.

And in Guadalajara, Mexico on Sunday, the United States softball team, defending champions, defeated Canada 11-1 in four innings in the gold medal match of the Pan American Games. And the U.S. women’s basketball team, already eliminated from medal contention by losses to Argentina 58-55 on Friday and Puerto Rico 75-70 on Saturday, are “playing hard, that is what we are here for” according to guard Emilie Johnson.

And in Haines, Alaska, Pelican’s Chris Bean won the 182-pound championship of the season’s first small schools wrestling match and teammate Quintin Hafendorfer was second at 160 pounds. Hoonah’s Alan Fisher was second at 126 pounds and Gustavus’ Zach Manchester was first at 170 pounds.

In Anchorage, Service beat South Anchorage 37-23 for the large school state football championship, a game for which the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) had selected Juneau’s retiring official, Guy Warren, to be the head referee in the contest.

Also in Anchorage, East beat West in overtime 13-12 for the girls’ flag football title. I mention that because my daughter won a state title in soccer and flag football for Dimond and I have always promised to write about her someday. Now I have.

Incidentally, Nikiski beat Barrow 52-21 for the small school’s title and Kenai stopped Homer 26-14 for the medium.

So to those wild All Blacks boys: Good on you! Despite being the perennial favorite, New Zealand hadn’t won the World Cup since hosting the inaugural tourney in 1987. They had lost in the ’95 finals, the ’91, ’99 and ’03 semifinals; and to France in the ’07 quarterfinals, their earliest exit ever.

Now here they are, beating France, not just for themselves but in the words of New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, playing in his 103rd test, “I think the whole country should be proud of every single one of the guys. We played our hearts out for you.”

Just like Juneau should be proud of every one of theirs.

Also, in rugby they use the word “biff” when describing a fight. And that takes me back to my days of reading action comic books, sledding until you cry, and tackle football with the family dog.


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