Juneau-Douglas football coach Rich Sjoroos just can’t get rid of his players after the season.
Known as a top Railbelt Conference coach, Sjoroos has been recognized state-wide with his selection to coach the Al Aska Shriners’ 34th Annual North-South Football Classic at the Dome in Anchorage on Saturday, and a number of his senior Crimson Bears were chosen to play.
“It is pretty neat,” Sjoroos said. “And to share it with the kids for such a good cause is even better. Sometimes we are overlooked in Southeast or treated like a separate state so we are enjoying this.”
It is the first time a Southeast coach has been selected and, like they have done all season, seven Crimson Bears “have his back” on the field. They are: center Warren Eckland, lineman Velepoto Enele, linebacker Lah Fifita, running back Jerick Ibias, linebacker Alex Matheson, Junior Nauer and wide receiver Sean Niumataevalu.
“I think it is pretty cool for our seniors,” Sjoroos said. “I am glad I get to coach these guys for one more game too. It is neat to watch them put the pads on and get one more shot to play some football.”
Sjoroos’ roster also includes senior all-star football players from Dimond, North Pole, Service, South Anchorage, West Anchorage and West Valley. Crimson Bears’ JV head coach Angelo Katasse will assist along with Service’s Corey Lindamood
Wasilla head coach Kent Rilatos, Chugiak’s Duncan Shackelford and Colony’s Richard Farber will coach the North team of seniors from Bartlett, Chugiak, Colony, Eagle River, East Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla.
“It is fun to watch the kids getting together in practice with the other schools,” Sjoroos said from Anchorage. “All their different background getting together and spend some days together. Everybody puts their rivalries aside and straps it on to play football for a good cause.”
Dimond’s Nathan Stevens, the Cook Inlet Defensive Player of the Year, will get to team up with JD’s state defensive player of the year Lah Fifita. Service’s offensive weapon Alan Busey will be in Sjoroos’ backfield, this time on purpose.
Sjoroos also stated, “They must get more sunlight up here because some of these West linemen are huge.”
The Shrine Game is held one week after the high school football championship games. The classic brings together the state’s best seniors.
Last year was the first ever Alaska boys’ football game held indoors and this year a girls’ flag football (10 a.m.) and a boys’ small/medium game (noon) were added. The large school begins at 2 p.m.
The games benefit Alaska children with medical needs. The Shrine game motto is “Strong Legs Run, So Weak Legs May Walk.” The proceeds of the game go directly to support Shriners Hospitals for Children, which currently treat over 700 of Alaska’s children.