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Posted: January 1, 2013 - 12:01am
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Talisa Rhea is shown playing for Lotos Gdynia in a game this season in Poland.
Talisa Rhea is shown playing for Lotos Gdynia in a game this season in Poland.

It seems like only yesterday I was taking a hard soccer ball to the side of the head from an Elementary Division player during the Holiday Cup Soccer Tournament... wait a minute, it was just yesterday. Those 2012 champions were all crowned and will be honored in tomorrow’s paper.

A year can go by fast, and seem like a day ago... and some days can seem to be longer than a year (such as being followed around by a 10-year-old and her teammates for the rest of a soccer tournament because I was “dodge-balled out” by her indirect kick).

We all will look back at 2012 for different reasons and add it to our long list of glory days.

It will be easy to leave out someone else’s big moment, so I will try to just touch on those athletes and events that touched me.

Since I still have the imprint of an Adidas soccer ball on the side of my face, let me begin with the 20th Annual Holiday Cup Soccer Tournament.

Holiday Cup truly is “The Gift Of The Magi” (or Messi for you soccer fans) for the holiday season.

For the past 20 years the Holiday Cup has been the sponsorship of Paul Dillon and Dillon & Findley, 17 of which included Tourney Director Leslie Houston. From it’s humble beginnings on the hard gym courts of Floyd Dryden and Dzantik’i Heeni, to the wonderful Dimond Park Field House, 20 years of youth and youth’s parents have not been required to dish out funds as mister Dillon has covered tourney expenses.

If you have not seen the joy on a young child’s face (or an older person acting like one) as he/she ran with wild abandon down the pitch in pursuit of a rolling orb, as temperatures plummet outside and snow falls, then you need to get out just a tiny bit more. Some huge spiked cleats were filled on Monday as an official “transfer” of the sponsorship put it in the capable hands of Marty McKeown. Thank you to Paul and Leslie.

••••

The Capital City Classic is back.

Also fresh in my mind, which doesn’t happen very often at my age, was the return of the Capital City Classic after a one-year hiatus.

The 22nd Annual “Princess Cruise Lines” (don’t get me started on titles of sponsors affixing the front of tourneys, thank you to the sponsors but remember when a name used to be in the back of a program? Just saying) Capital City Classic was ‘fan’tastic. It was ‘old school’ high school spirit. I loved it. Pep bands, cheerleaders, dance squads and hoops. Reminded me of when I fell for a Sitka Drill Team member in 1976 and a Juneau cheerleader in 1977 (Cory and Susan god bless you both), ahem, where was I? Oh yeah.

East High School coach Josh Muehlenkamp, a former Metlakatla coach, stated, “This is why teams come. Nothing beats a Southeast regional basketball game. I wanted my kids to experience this.”

And the Thunderbirds, a team that has captured numerous titles, from the toughest (arguably) conference in the state, did win the tourney but not the final game as the JDHS atmosphere left them a shot-from-outside-the-arch short.

Yes, it was an All-Alaskan tournament this year, but the expectations are the economy will improve (we survived 121212 didn’t we?) and those Australian teams with the body suits will be back. Let me clarify: the women’s Australian teams with the body suits, which will attract the California and Washington men’s teams again. Okay? Clarified? Good. My significant other is reading this.

••••

Speaking of economics... The Thunder Mountain Thunder Dome Tournament was a nice winter high school basketball tourney for the young school. However, it too has felt the pinch and this year’s will feature just a women’s tourney. Hopefully that will get back to double events.

Speaking of double... somehow Juneau survived another year of two schools fundraising to support their teams. Well done! The only thing that eclipses the passion of this community’s love of sports, is its charitable heart.

Speaking of double schools, the transfer of athletes between one and the other and back bothers me. Stop it please. Pick a school and stay there. Make your four-year commitment. This is said with no particular athlete in mind. I realize there are circumstances that exist which require transfer. However, if it is done because you think more playing time or a title is coming, well, stop it.

••••

Dreams really did come true for 2007 Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears guard Talisa Rhea as she is playing professional basketball.

“I am leaving in a couple weeks for Poland,” Rhea said from Seattle last year. “It is pretty cool. I wake up with a big smile on my face. My parents are excited too, my dad wants to be at every game.”

Last March Rhea, who just completed her senior year at Seattle University, attended the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association clinic at the NCAA Women’s Final Four and a combine workout camp. While there she was contacted by the Polish team Lotos Gdynia, also known as Lotos VBW Clima Gdynia, from the PLKK league and the European League. The Euro League is the biggest league in Europe, with 15 countries represented.

Rhea, a 5-foot-11 point guard, found an agent and the two entities worked together to form a contract. In June she received the actual eight-month offer to wear the blue and yellow of Lotos.

And Rhea is a lot more approachable than another professional hoopster from Juneau. To get a hold of Carlos Boozer for an interview you have to know the third cousin of his agents’ gardeners barber, just to leave a message. Rhea, on the other hand, will blog for you, write for you, send a photo and chat you up. Now that is old school hoops!

••••

2001 JDHS graduate Seth McBride shared his 2012 Paralympic Games thoughts with us during the events. Over 80,000 people filled Olympic Stadium in London on August 29 for the opening ceremonies.

Her Majesty The Queen opened and remarked, “The athletes’ endeavors and triumphs will excite and inspire people wherever they live.”

Over 4,200 athletes from 164 countries moved past each other to be applauded by those attending.

In his wheelchair, USA’s Seth McBride, was overwhelmed. The man who crashed his USA Paralympic Team quad rugby wheelchair into opponents at seemingly reckless speeds was succumbing to emotions stronger than just competitiveness.

“It was pure excitement,” McBride said of the games opening ceremonies. “After all the buildup and the training, the opening ceremonies are when it hits home that it is time for the big show.”

McBride and team USA lost in the finals but he wins in all our hearts.

••••

Swimmers!

Just this December Juneau won the bid for the 2013 ASAA (Alaska School Activities Association) First National Bank Alaska (really? there is that long sponsorship title again) Swimming & Diving State Championships.

Thank you Max Mertz for your dedication to getting this done, and to the many others in the community who volunteer their time and skill to make our swimming events happen.

And ‘wow!’ to Haley Mertz, Ciera Kelly, Dakota Isaak and Talyn Ramos for winning the 200-yard medley relay state championship! And Jonah Swanson winning the 100-yard backstroke! And TMHS’ Kenny Fox the 100-yard butterfly! And the JDHS boy’s sportsmanship win!

It was only fitting that one of the closest race of the 2012 state high school swim championships was the first event of the day, that girl’s 200 MR. It was even more fitting that a senior touched the wall to win for her school.

“It was really cool,” Ramos said of her finish. “I didn’t even look up at the scoreboard or anything because I didn’t want to know, it was so close. I just looked up at my team to see their reaction, and I saw them jumping up and I was like ‘yes, we did it.’”

It was fitting for Ramos to touch the wall for someone special. Ramos stated the team, as it has all season, were swimming for close friend and teammate Savannah Cayce who died in a tragic accident at Auke Lake last summer.

“It has been really emotional for us as a team this year,” Ramos said. “I am glad we were able to pull that together and come out strong for her. Right before we were walking up to the blocks we did our little prayer and then we said ‘Savannah’ really loud before we walked up. It was a really hard thing for our team but we did pretty well over the season despite what we were going through and the fact that a lot of us were struggling with that emotion the whole season.”

••••

I was very impressed with the JDHS hockey team. The reason may surprise you.

In every interview with a player, he/she answered by referring to me as a “sir.” And they thanked me at the end. It was halfway through the season before I stopped checking to make sure my wallet was still in my pocket and it wasn’t one of those distraction techniques.

Thunder Mountain’s Tupou boys are as courteous as well. As a matter of fact, many of our young athletes say thank you after interviews. So, ‘Thank You!” too, and thank you coaches and parents for instilling that little etiquette teaching.

••••

Baseball! I loved my first full season as sports editor. How can you not love covering the opening of the Gastineau Channel Little League and following the baseball and softball teams as they battle through the local season and then work to get to state and regionals and Williamsport.

And the JDHS Crimson Bears win the high school state championship! Over Ketchikan no less, after beating Anchorage power Service in the semifinals. That was one of my most awesome trips to Anchorage. Sad to watch Lance Ibesate, Josh Magnuson, Brenden Winters and Ryan Kelly leave the diamond for the last time.

JDHS won their fifth state baseball championship. Nothing signifies the 2012 Crimson Bears state baseball championship 12-6 win over Ketchikan Anchorage’s Mulcahy Stadium than the word “Team.”

“We feel great,” Senior Lance Ibesate said. “I am so happy for our team.”

Ibesate had just spent championship day pitching six innings, striking out six Kayhi batters and walking five and spreading out eight hits. On the offensive side he went 4-4 with five RBIs including a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning after Ketchikan had closed to within two.

To top it off he sped off down the base path for two stolen bases on his way to Player Of The Game Honors.

Yes the Kings got six runs on the Crimson Bears ace. Yet Ibesate stated, “My team had my back. I trust my team.”

And the team had each other’s back.

JDHS put Crimson Bears’ Ibesate, Kelly, Kyle Gould and Jackson Lehnhart on the All-State Tournament team.

Now if Sheldon Winters stays on for another season I will really believe that God made “Field Of Dreams” a big hit and not Kevin Costner.

Speaking of big hits. We took one. G.C.I. and Root Sports continue to squabble about televising the sports we want to see. Our beloved Mariners and Seahawks and the Pacific Northwestern coverage. Come on G.C.I., play nice.

••••

Speaking of Mariners... The baseball life of JDHS alum (1989) Tim Kissner took another rotation toward full circle when the Seattle Mariners delivered a hard, no nonsense, fastball right down the middle of the sporting world, announcing Kissner as Director of International Operations for the ball club.

“I am just blessed,” Kissner, 41, said as he prepared to travel to the Dominican Republic where he will spend a week getting to know Mariners’ staff there, watching players in winter-league and instructional-league games, and interviewing potential scouts. “I am really excited and to be honest, I am pretty grateful. This is a nice promotion. Being from Juneau, I have always been a Mariners fan. My first pro game was in the King Dome.”

Kissner stated he was eight years old when he attended that first Seattle game. The Mariners were playing the Milwaukee Brewers. The year was 1979.

“I remember there was a bench clearing brawl,” Kissner laughed. “And Dave Kingman played for the Mariners. I think everyone in Juneau was a Mariners fan.”

Kissner replaces highly regard Bob Engle, who resigned on Oct. 5, and will over see all the Mariners international scouting operations, including all international scouts, Kissner will also work hand-in-hand with the Mariners Player Development department once international players are signed.

The Mariners also have a domestic scouting department that looks for amateur players in the United States for the June draft.

Kissner will be in charge of all Seattle scouting outside the amateur draft, working towards the July 2 international signing day when 16-year-olds can be signed outside the U.S. and Canada.

“The time of year will dictate where I am going,” Kissner said. “Most winter baseball will be in Latin America. Everything we are doing kind of revolves around scouting the young 15-year-olds who will be 16 on the signing day. But if a find a 17 year-old in Venezuela, the Dominican or Panama or wherever, we can sign them whenever we like.”

International scouts can sign players over age 16 at any time, unlike the domestic Major League amateur draft. Kissner will oversee a staff of around 20 scouts and will have the final decision on signing.

Mariners’ scouts in the Pacific Rim and Europe, including Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Europe will answer to Kissner.

••••

The Dimond boys took our Crimson Bears’ soccer crown! The Dimond boys had the top seed, the top player and the home pitch.

Juneau-Douglas had the history and the most heart.

Sport gods, however, pay no attention to what is written or what is displayed, sometimes they just let the game go on and let the balls strike where they may.

Dimond ran with their Gatorade Alaska Boys Player Of The Year, senior midfielder Michael Sedor, to a state soccer championship 1-0 win on Saturday.

The Crimson Bears did not lag far behind.

“Our kids played great,” JDHS coach Gary Lehnhart said. “Dimond had the run of play for most of the game. They put more pressure on us than we put on them.”

The player of the year award didn’t phase Crimson Bears junior midfielder Stuart Thurston who shadowed Sedor through the match. Thurston basically shut the senior Lynx star down. Classmate Tommy Thompson also played well against the strong attack of the Lynx. Juneau’s soccer class of seniors was 18 strong during the season. They were the two-time defending state champions and in seven of the last eight title games, winning three (five total). Crimson Bears’ junior Jackson Lehnhart, was the runner-up Gatorade Player Of The Year to Sedor. The award is based on athletic and academic achievement, and community involvement. The Crimson Bears girl’s team won the highest Grade Point Average Award. Solana Ashe, Bekka Ord, Johnny Joyce and Lehnhart were all state selections.

••••

Concussions played a big role in stopping the forward progress, so to speak, of both the JDHS and TMHS football teams as they each qualified for their respective school-size playoffs but lost a key player or two for the final games.

I like watching Rich Sjoroos’ Crimson Bears and Bill Byouer’s Falcons, each has their own style of coaching and I can appreciate both. JDHS will be playing at the 3A level next season, in the Southeast Conference with Ketchikan, Sitka and Thunder Mountain. Rumor has it that North Pole will also make the jump. I can appreciated both sides of all the high school sports, sitting here typing and naming who leads what and whom captains which will take up needed photo space so I will just say I am enjoying the heck out of attending local sports.

••••

My most anticipated athletic calendar date came and went in one quarter of football play. If you have ever watched JDHS senior Phillip Fenumiai directing a team down the field then you can understand how excited I was to watch the opening game against Thunder Mountain. For almost one quarter Fenumiai looked like the major college scholarship coaches rave about. Then an injury sidelined him the rest of the season, possibly through the basketball season, and there is hope that he is ready for any sport left before graduation. He is that good, he can play any sport.

••••

A lot of athletes graduated last year. If you were a senior last season and have moved on... thank you very much.

The JDHS girls and boys soccer teams graduated such a number that I was suffering whiplash on senior appreciation night trying to get a glimpse of each one.

Probably one of the hardest stories to cover was Dorothy Brent and her season cut short due to a cancer. The team, which still included Dorothy, had many emotional days. Her jersey was brought to every match. Interviewing her was heart breaking but inspirational. Covering the benefit games, seeing the faces of teammates when she made a surprise entrance, watching the hugs... sports is so much more than a W or an L in a column. I saw Brent back on the pitch during the Holiday Cup and realized she is probably one of the best women players in Juneau.

••••

You crazy cross country runners! Not a glamour sport unless you like to run. What a joy to watch people like JDHS’ Tal Norvell and Lilly Pothier and TMHS’ Katie Jones and Nick Bursell, running for the love of running. The Falcons’ Maddie Hall placing eighth at state for 4A girls and JD’s Norvell running like the wind to a 4A boy’s fourth place state finish. Falcons’ coach Scott May and Crimson Bears’ Tristan Knutson-Lombardo and Merry Ellefson seem to put together a trademark group of athletes each season.

The Juneau Empire Cup runners and races, the bike races, the sailors and skiers. May you all compete in this next year as well.

••••

2010 JDHS Crimson Bears’ pitcher Dylan Baker was drafted into the MLB and all of morning Juneau fell in love with the Cleveland Indians. At roughly 11:45 a.m. Alaska time, a few months back, in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball Draft, the Indians used the 173rd overall pick to bring former Crimson Bears’ pitcher Dylan Baker into their organization.

Why, if it were 1936 I would be saying Bob Feller is going to be fun to watch.

This is an organization that in 1948, amid much controversy, took Satchel Paige from the Negro League at age 42. That was also the year the Indians won their second World Series Championship (1920 was the first).

Now they can start working on that third trophy.

“I am definitely relieved,” Baker said. “”It was pretty stressful. It was nice to see my name come on the board.”

••••

The Crimson Bears girls battled on the state softball fields.

With just one senior on their roster at the state tournament, and a regular season of just two graduates, the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears softball team wasn’t even supposed to contend with the powerhouses of Alaska.

Yet here they were. Playing on the sun kissed grass of the state championships, knocking off a good team or two, taking a few lumps and taking each inning to heart on the way to a fourth place state finish. On a Saturday morning in Anchorage the Crimson Bears fell to Chugiak 4-0 to end their season.

“It was pretty rough I guess,” senior Ashli Kikendall said. “We gave it our all this year. Our coach asked us if someone jumped on our teammates back in an alley who would jump in to help, and we all would. I will look back on this season and at how well this young team did. I am really proud of them.”

The Crimson Bears won the Highest Grade Point Average trophy and placed sophomore Emma Good on the All-State Tournament team.

••••

So many things about Juneau, Southeast, and Alaska.

Kake’s umpteenth Gold Medal Basketball Tournament championship; Herb Didrickson being selected into the Alaska Sports Hall Of Fame; Thorne Bay’s Taylee Nyquest winning the 3A state cross country running championship; JDHS cheerleaders winning the Large Varsity Coed and Time Out Cheer state championships; our wrestling and tennis programs on the rebound; Mt. Edgecumbe taking the 3A state volleyball title; Joe Tompkins on the USA Disabled Alpine Ski Team; Dr. Janice Sheufelt cycling like crazy; John Bursell in the Hawaii Ironman... there are so many wondrous things Juneau athletes are doing. My compliments and applaudings to you all.

••••

Sandi Wagner. The, now, athletic director for both high schools is well over due for a congratulations and thank you. The biggest flattery came at the recent Cap City Classic. I saw JDHS’ do-all-the-tasks Joel Abbott filling up the water bottles. I remarked you do everything, to which he replied, “Yes, I am the Sandi Wagner of this tournament.”

••••

There were some passings too.

Clair Markey (at age 76) and Eric McDowell (69) among them.

Markey’s influence as a basketball coach included state championships at JDHS in 1969 and Lathrop in 1972; turned University of Alaska Southeast into one of the nation’s highest scoring teams in the 1980’s; playing on Seattle U team that lost to Kentucky in the 1958 National Championship Game... but what is most special is seeing a kid in practice being taught something by a coach that was taught by a coach that was influenced by something Markey coached.

McDowell was a long-time Juneau resident and founder of the research firm McDowell Group. I knew him from the basketball courts over the years and, coming from the fishing community of Petersburg, I applauded his Blessing Of The Fleet speech a few years back concerning the economic impact of the seafood industry on Juneau and Alaska. It is funny how, although his body of work involved so much intelligence, my fondest memory is shooting freethrows with him over a lunch hour at the Alaska Club.

••••

Another athlete passed way too soon.

Savannah Cayce at 16.

I am reprinting my column about attending her memorial. Because if you can not look back at any years passing and shed a tear in remembrance... well, then you are not human.

GREAT THINGS LEFT UNDONE

There will be great things left undone now.

They have risen angelically in balloons, floated peacefully in flowers and fallen forcefully in tears.

They are the things Savannah Cayce was going to do as life unfolded before her. They are the things that touched everyone around her.

Instead, her friends gathered at Auke Lake Monday evening, two days after she was fatally injured in a Jet Ski incident there, and remembered the great things already accomplished.

There was no room to stand along the floating dock bridge that crossed a small corner of the lake where Auke Lake Trail allows the views some call heavenly.

Friends, classmates and acquaintances from both Juneau-Douglas High School, where the 16-year-old Cayce was to be an incoming junior, and Thunder Mountain High School, where Cayce could wreck havoc on opposing swim teams, hugged tightly together along the span.

“She had a really great sense of humor,” one said. “She loved her sister Jocelyn a lot.”

“That is so true,” another added.

As they spoke their eyes brightened and they laughed softly.

“I got to swim with her,” another said.

“She was fun to hang around with,” another said. “She was always happy and smiling.”

“She was just always happy,” others said. “Everyone liked her.”

“She was the biggest sweetheart,” one said. “The sweetest girl.”

One of the largest and most powerful Crimson Bears’ football players embraced Savannah Cayce’s boyfriend tightly. His hand covered the grieving lad’s head, his arm locked the body half the size of his own in a cocoon as if to protect it from the world. They both shed a grief that overran the waters of Auke Lake.

“He is not doing well,” a friend said.

“We can only keep praying,” another added.

“We have to rely on our friends a lot now,” one said. “And we pray a lot. That is how I deal with it.”

Savannah Cayce’s best friend was numb. Everyone there was numb.

A swim coach, a principal, a teacher, and a parent... this was a grief that was not prejudice. It was indiscriminate in its reach. It touched every click, clan or subspecies of student and athlete and classmate.

It didn’t linger on one dark corner of town, or stray in a back shadow of the valley.

It poured out over the multitudes.

The gathering was planned via Facebook and cell phone. The same medias that Savannah Cayce was counted as a friend, and yet, she extended out into the physical world too.

“She had that playful personality where... you didn’t make her mad or she would come back with some funny comment,” one said with a smile.

“Yeah, but she was so nice to be around,” another said. “I am so happy to call her my friend.”

“I have known her since I moved here,” one said. “She has been my friend since I moved here.”

When the gathering dispersed a small group lingered. Then just a few.

“She was a good swimmer,” one said.

“The boss at swimming man,” another reprimanded.

“Oh yeah she was great,” the first said again.

And they smiled.

There will be things, great great things, which are left undone now.

The things that Savannah Cayce would have done.

Instead they become the things that those she touched will now do, whether knowingly or otherwise, because their own lives have been made better for knowing her.

Six young teens lined a railing, their heads lowered, hands clasped tightly in prayer.

“I didn’t know you,” one said softly in prayer to Savannah Cayce. “But you always made me happy when I came to school.”

••••

Each of us has their own review of the past year. I hope you have enjoyed my limited memories and as this season begins I hope you will find the time to make some more.

Go climb a mountain, or ski one, or watch a local team play.

Don’t look back and say “I should have...” unless you follow that with “put on another layer, it was cold up there.”

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