The early morning 100-yard dashes, the even earlier pole-vaulting, and the still earlier long jumps. These all paved the way for young Herb Didrickson’s basketball career.
On Monday, the Alaska Sports Hall Of Fame announced their class of 2013 at a press conference and the now legendary basketball star from Sitka heads the list.
“It is such a wonderful and big surprise,” Didrickson, 86, said. “Oh wow, I do not know what to say. But I have been telling my granddaughters about it all day. And people have been calling, it is so wonderful.”
Reached at his hospital room in Anchorage where he is undergoing his final chemo treatment today, Didrickson credits his upbringing in Sitka for his love of basketball.
“Just playing the game all the time,” Didrickson said. “It was just in my head all the time growing up.”
Didrickson stated he found out what it takes to be a good runner by making sure he didn’t miss the chow lines at Sheldon Jackson High School.
“Those 100 yard dashes before breakfast as a freshman,” Didrickson said. “You had to get there before the last gong or you didn’t get to eat breakfast.”
As a sixth and seventh grader he watched the pole-vaulters at Sheldon Jackson College practice in the early mornings.
The team let him train with the bamboo poles if he didn’t let them fall to the ground.
“I had to figure it out,” Didrickson said. “I had to clear the bar and run around to catch the pole before it hit the dirt. I got pretty quick.”
The young Didrickson practiced the broad jump and standing long jump as well.
“People would tell me the rules,” Didrickson said. “And I had to improve my work ethic to match them.”
Didrickson stated his most memorable basketball moment, aside from watching his grandkids play now, was a game his Sitka ANB team played against the Ketchikan Rockets in the Gold Medal Tournament.
“They were ahead by about 20 at half time,” Didrickson said. “That was the only time I got mad. In the dressing room, I did not want to talk to my teammates. I told them we are not doing too good and I am going up to warm up.”
Didrickson returned immediately to the court and shot layups, and his teammates followed right behind.
“The guys took that to heart and they came up and did the same,” Didrickson said. “We won by four points. We had to play a defensive game.”
Didrickson’s basketball career included: Sitka BIA Elementary 1939-42; SJ High School 1944-46; SJ Junior College 1947-48; Sitka ANB 1949-64; And from 1965-90 many old-timers competitions throughout the Southeast, Regionally (California) and Nationally (Louisiana and Florida, etc).
He was also outstanding in baseball, softball, track and cross-country running. He was a referee and wore the stripes and whistles proudly in many Region and State Tournaments.
Didrickson is a respected Tlingit elder and retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs after spending over 30 years in service. He was a teacher in the Industrial Department of Mt. Edgecumbe High School. He was the Freshmen Boys Basketball Coach; Junior Varsity Boys Basketball Coach and Assistant Varsity Boys Basketball Coach. He was Advisor to various classes there as well.
A street in Sitka was recently named in his honor. Sheldon Jackson college named its gymnasium the “Herb Didrickson Gym.” He was given the “Christian Citizenship Award,” the highest award given by the college. He was inducted into the following Halls of Fame: Sheldon Jackson High School; Sheldon Jackson College; Sitka ANB; Gold Medal Juneau Lions Club basketball tournament; Alaska High School Activities Association; and now will be inducted into the ASHF.
And lastly, which Didrickson lists as his high point, he married his Sheldon Jackson High School sweetheart, Pollyann Lott.
“My biggest fan and cheerleader,” Didrickson said.
Also selected for induction is Buck Nystrom, the winningest coach in Alaska high school football who guided two Fairbanks schools to state championships, influenced a generation of coaches and helped scores of players find college teams.
In 1992, he led tiny Eielson to the state title back when all schools participated in a single classification. In 2004, he led North Pole to the large-school state championship. To understand the significance of that, consider that since the first state football championship in 1983, Anchorage’s big schools have won every title except five. Nystrom, who died in 2006, posted a 150-92 record during 31 seasons at Eielson and North Pole. The field in Eielson was named after him.
The Equinox Marathon was selected in the “Event” category. This 26.2-mile punishing race in Fairbanks earlier this year celebrated its 50th anniversary as one of the nation’s toughest marathons. A combination of road and trail running, it begins and ends at UAF’s Patty Center and includes an ascent and descent of 2,323-foot Ester Dome.
Two “Moment” selections will also be inducted; Chris Clark’s storybook victory in the 2000 U.S. Olympic trials and Les Anderson’s world record 97-pound King Salmon catch in 1985.
Anderson’s catch on rod-and-reel came on a sunny May morning in 1985, and 27 years later, the record still stands and the fish is on display at the Soldotna Visitors Center.
According to ASHF selection panelist, and Anchorage Daily News columnist, Beth Bragg, Clark’s achievement sent shock waves through Alaska, especially among runners. After spending the winter training in her home on a treadmill Clark, of Anchorage, won the Olympic Trials women’s marathon. A relative unknown outside Alaska, Clark, a working mother, wore a Skinny Raven singlet in a race that attracted a number of well-sponsored professional runners. Ranked 22nd in a field of 209 qualifiers vying for the country’s sole berth in the Sydney Olympics marathon, Clark sliced more than seven minutes off her previous best to win the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 31 seconds -- two minutes ahead of anyone else.
In a press release, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame Executive Director Harlow Robinson stated, “
“We are happy to welcome in the Class of 2013. It’s a class as diverse as our state’s sports history. This group represents greatness across eras of time, genres of sport and also across the vast geography of Alaska.”
Over 1,700 people participated in the public voting process. The accumulative public vote total constituted one ballot equal to a selection panel member’s ballot.
“We saw strong public campaigns from different corners of the state,” said Robinson. “At the end of the day some people will be disappointed that their candidate didn’t get in, but it’s encouraging that some many people are getting involved in the public process.”
Several new individuals will appear on next year’s public ballot as a result of strong representation as a “write-in” candidate in this year’s public vote or due to appearing on a selection panel ballot for the first time this year. These candidates include record-setting mountain runner Nancy Pease, hockey legend Steve McSwain, multi-time Iditarod Champion Martin Buser, NBA champion Mario Chalmers, hoops legend Steve Frank, and Charlotte Bobcats Head Coach Mike Dunlap. They will join the existing candidates on next year’s ballot.
The ASHF Selection panel are: Bob Eley, sports editor, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (chairman); Beth Bragg, columnist and former sports editor, Anchorage Daily News; Lew Freedman, Chicago, former Anchorage Daily News sports editor and author of numerous books about Alaska sports; Mike Janecek, Palmer, longtime high school coach and athletics administrator; Danny Martin, sports writer, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner; Steve Nerland, Anchorage, American Legion baseball manager; Mike Sica, longtime Alaskan sports broadcaster and journalist, George Houston, longtime Juneau Douglas High School basketball coach. Results of Internet voting by the public constituted the panel’s ninth vote.
According to the ADN’s Bragg, “A big fish, a big shock, a big pain and two men who made lasting marks on opposite ends of Alaska are the newest members of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.”