Sports and history are funny things.
One day you are tying a rabbit ear on a pair of KEDs and trying to pull a bunny through the hole so you can get into the first-grade game, and the next you are reading about that same great tying achievement 50 years later.
Sports has been a steadfast component of life since (well, before) prone-laying-man was pushed outside the cave by fed-up-woman and learned to walk up right and swing a club from either side.
Batting averages then were pretty straight forward: you miss a swing, you get eaten.
Team strategy had to change pretty quickly, as did uniforms and equipment.
I, however, was born in 1959. I wore hand-me-down KEDS sneakers, which mom threw into the laundry with a dash of Clorox and a ladies-stocking filled with old coffee grounds. That was good early coaching on her part. Get that young team believing that if you look good, you play good... battered shoes and all.
Luckily the Pro-Keds came out in the early 60’s, “for the serious athlete.”
They couldn’t stop a rusty nail in an old board but I could chase feral kittens and run from black bears in the muskeg.
Then PF Flyers (first produced by BF Goodrich in 1937) promised I “Could run fastest and jump highest.”
Then Converse bought the company in 1972 and I was wearing the Chuck Taylor All-Stars (white, high-top). Those shoes were two pairs a season from middle school through my graduation in 1978.
I even had one new pair to begin my college career. Unfortunately, a leather “team” monstrosity was forced onto our feet by drill sergeant coaches who liked to call me “Eskimo.” I like to think they said that because I could play like the lads from the Inupiat villages, but I knew that Alaska and Eskimo were synonymous references.
It could have been “oil” or “pipeline” so Eskimo was fine by me. I even told them I had to get a tribal tattoo when I returned to my families igloo, marking my one-year as a man alone among the leather shoe people.
That is just a small sampling of memories for me.
My sports history with Juneau is limited.
As lads we dreaded Little League tournaments as Gastineau Channel always produced giants that threw faster than we Norwegians and Swedes could think.
Middle school years had us trembling over the legends of Floyd Dryden hoopsters we would face.
And to this day (right now as a matter of fact) I am raising a clinched fist to the sky and shouting “curse you Kevin Fagerstrom!”
For it was “Q-Tip” and his mates that forced myself and my Petersburg Vikings’ teammates to be the second-seed from southeast two years in a row at the state basketball championships. It was those damnable Crimson Bears that thrashed us in the Region V championship game my senior year. It was these pesky little black-and-red clothed guards and forwards that wouldn’t give me a break all game long!
And it was in the JDHS gym!
So I am tortured each night now as a sports editor when I go to their den and cover their present day antics!
Ahh! Sports history!
We each have our memories. Our favorite players, games, moments, even officials (note to Juneau: Bob Sims has been doing a remarkable job for many years).
This community has produced the Chicago Bulls’ Carlos Boozer and Lotos Gdynia’s Talisa Rhea (and a few state titles in that time); Team USA’s Seth McBride is a force in wheelchair rugby; Joe Tompkins competes on the national and international level as a member of the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team; Tim Kissner is the Director of International Operations for the Seattle Mariners; Dr. Janice Sheufelt is winning bike races that take days to complete; Bob Janes is winning in Ping-Pong at the Senior Games and Phil McMurray is winning in pickle ball; and keep your eye on young mister Donovan McCurley and miss Caitlin Pusich (among others) as they have showed great skills at an early age in football and basketball.
In 2003, just before their Crimson Bears were to play in the state baseball championships, shortstop Joe Ayers and third baseman-pitcher Zach Kohan were drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. The team then repeated as state champions, knocking off Bartlett 7-3, with TMHS coach Matt Greely came on in relief in the second inning to hold the Golden Bears hitless.
Chad Bentz made the Montreal Expos’ roster.
Sheldon Jackson’s Herb Didrickson was one of the best basketball players to battle local teams.
Herb Mead was a local great who went on to play at Idaho and then led the Fort Richardson Pioneers to the All-Alaska Armed Forces Championship (most valuable player also) in 1952. Joe Ninnis followed shortly after, from the Star Hill Chicken Yard to the University of Washington in 1954.
The 2006 Gold Medal B bracket champion Hydaburg Haida were pretty darn good (Joe Young, Matt Carle, Devin Edenshaw, Tony Peele, Travis Young, Archie Young, Darren Edenshaw, Sid Edenshaw).
The 2003 JDHS harriers state cross country running title on the Palmer High School’s Michael Janecek Trails, with six Crimson Bears in the top 22 finishers and junior Tristan Knutson-Lombardo (now coaching) placing fifth.
Kirsten Jorgensen graduated last year from Harvard, where she was captain of the cross-country running team. Maria Weyhrauch is playing volleyball at Pomona-Pitzer.
I cannot even begin to note all the athletes in the past 10 years, let alone 100.
The JDHS swim team that produced (among many) Koko Urata, Sarah Felix, Melissa Bogert, Sara Bogert, Kristin Jones, Amber Kelly, Jenna Rutecki, Lia Heifetz, Allison Sharp, Amanda Jones, Julia DiCostanzo, Linzie Norman, Kate Lukshin, Katie Busch, Katie Boyce, Mackenzie Allison, Erika O’Sullivan, Nick Rutecki, Nathan Ord, Kyle O’Brien, Seth Cayce, Alex Brown, Cody Brunette, Tyler Mickelson, Josh Anderson, Alex Barto, Dakota Isaak, Ciera Kelly, Haley Mertz, and on and on.
Phillip Fenumiai is one of the greatest football and basketball players who will not play this season due to an injury. His siblings were just as talented.
Thunder Mountain athletes are making their names known.
And I have a soft spot for the most athletic of endeavors: ballet. JDHS student Misha Culver is pursuing a chance at professional ballet as we speak (well, as I write and you read).
Jimmy Manning , Alaska’s Jim Thorpe, was the greatest from Douglas in 1920-23; Frank Stevens started as a freshman on the 1952-53 Southeast champion Douglas Huskies and traveled with teammates Pat Wellington, Tony McCormick, John Jensen, Tom Cashen, Richard Isaak, Harry Stevens, Leonard Bowman, Bob Johnson, Louis Pusich and coach Ken Portteus to play against Fairbanks for the territory crown.
The 1954-55 Juneau Crimson Bears won the All-Alaska championship at Anchorage. That team was coach Bill Ordway, Mike Grummett, Johnny Ebona, Christie Crandahl, Warren Powers, Phillip Lesher, Pat Ness, Mike Wade, Allan Engstrom, Dave Hollingsworth, Bob Jewett, assistant coach Bill Baker and manager George Playdon.
There is the 1917 Alaska Native Brotherhood basketball team, the ANB’s first. They were George Dalton, Howard gray, Tom Williams, Ray James, David Howard, Louis Simpson, Charlie Daniels, and ANB founder Peter Simpson. Their teamwork on the basketball court mirrored the ANB’s teamwork in Southeast communities as they fought for and won an impressive list of Native and civil rights issues.
“I played my best ball inside,” Metlakatla’s Tom Booth told me. Inside meant prison. It was inside that Booth received letters from Dr. Walter A. Soboleff. The letters changed Booth’s life. Now he plays his best basketball at Gold Medal and I have never seen a better big man on the court, or off.
Dr. Soboleff once asked why I wasn’t playing in the Gold Medal Tournament.
I replied that they don’t invite Petersburg anymore.
He stated that was because “Norwegians can’t shoot straight.”
I replied that I was Swedish.
To which he said without hesitation, “And Swede’s can’t play defense.”
Sports are the great equalizer, the life teacher, the maker of men and women.
Championships, titles and crowns have come to many teams and many individuals. There are many more who achieved none of the accolades, just the glory of being in sport. This is just as great as a gold medal.
If you have a favorite moment in sports history that you would like to share please pass it my way.
But you know what is really great about history and sports?
PF Flyers and Chuck Taylors are now fashion statements.
And I think I still have a pair.