It is hard to imagine that a player who scores 69 points does not affix that game as his personal best to be played in Mt. Edgecumbe’s B. J. McGillis Memorial Gymnasium, the site of this week’s Southeast Region V 2/3/4A Basketball Tournament.
Petersburg High School senior Dave Ohmer put that number through the nets against the Braves on Feb. 17, 1973.
“Obviously scoring a whole bunch of points was a great experience there,” Ohmer said. “But winning the 1971 southeast championship over Sitka by 30 points, that is light years a head in terms of joy and excitement and feeling of accomplishment.”
The John O’Connell Bridge (named after a former mayor), which connects Sitka on Baranof Island to Mt. Edgecumbe on Japonski Island, was still under construction. It would open in 1972.
Travel was similar to the days of Juneau High School verse Douglas High School and most other schools along the inside passage... by anything that floats.
“We were in these little putter boats,” Ohmer said. “We were so excited we had beaten Juneau and would be facing Sitka.”
Petersburg beat Juneau in the 1971 semifinals by about 17 points. The Crimson Bears were expected to take state that season, or compete for it.
Then PHS coach Bob Chastain wrote this about the 1971 tournament:
“Remember those days when all the teams came together from Southeast Alaska to play for the championship. There were no classifications during that time. I came fresh out of San Jose State Graduate School for my first teaching and coaching job in Petersburg (1969-71). Anyway, we had some great Viking talent on that 1971 team. You were very young at that time so I will refresh your memory a little. The starters were guards, Bobby Hammer and Dave Ohmer, John Swanson at the swing position, Ted Lewis at power forward and our big guy in the middle, Chris Jensen. We had two prolific forwards coming off the bench who could have started for any team in Southeast, Mark Severson and Stu Jensen. We also had a good solid bench in Rod Littleton, Mike Lopez and Lynn Ewing. They were great kids who were just as responsible for our success as any other team members. I don’t remember our record during the regular season but I think it might have been something like 20-10. We played a lot of games during those days. The Southeast Tournament field included Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Haines and Metlakatla. We played Haines in the first game and beat them by 30. We played Juneau in the semi-finals the next night and beat them by 17. That night, many members of the Juneau team went out to a party and were drinking. Jim Hamey found out about it and sent all those kids back to Juneau the next day. He just had “4” kids left to finish the tournament with. We had a coaches meeting the next morning to get referee’s lined up for the championship game and Hamey explained what happened to his team and asked the coaches if he could “save face” for his team and the people of Juneau by playing his manager so he could finish the tournament. All of us felt sorry for poor Jim and consented to let his manager play. The tournament manager approved it also. Fast-forward to the 3rd place game that night. Juneau vs. Ketchikan. We, “the coaches” did not know much about Hamey’s manager. So, they introduce the starting line-ups for both teams. Off the bench comes Juneau’s manager at “6-5” and looks athletic? Nobody knew that his manager was a good basketball player. I forget the kid’s name. Anyway, that was one great tournament game and in the end, Juneau beat Ketchikan with only 5 players, in a very close game for 3rd place. The entire field house crowd were on their feet cheering for Juneau! That usually doesn’t happen. I remember that so well.”
Juneau’s Pat Kemp carried that team in the B. J. McGillis Memorial Gymnasium.
The gym, named after a long time Mt. Edgecumbe track, cross country and basketball coach (1957-65), is a venue that makes fans, as much as players, feel like they are the main attraction.
There is no bad seat, unless you are a referee in the “hot seat.”
“The gym is just so grand,” Ohmer said. “It is so spacious. I would even say it was intimidating. That was the first good game I had over there in terms of points. It is a different environment. But the biggest thing over there is the Edgecumbe fans. They are great fans. Good team or bad team their fans are out in force. I always thought it was the best place to hold tournaments. There is room to watch games, to mingle and enjoy the times of being together in southeast. The 70’s were great because everyone was together in one league. Wrangell won two championships in the 70’s and Wrangell won one, so it wasn’t like the smaller schools were outmatched. It was a struggle but it was wonderful going into each season having to face the Juneau’s and Ketchikan’s of the world.”
Long-time basketball historian Gil Truitt’s favorite game seen there was the championship game between Haines and Juneau in 1960. The Glacier Bears and Eric McDowell were underdogs and the Crimson Bears had Roger Grummett.
“The sad part was that I was housing some of the losing players,” Truitt said. “The teams were evenly matched with great players and coaches and good sportsmanship. Those days always had good sportsmanship.”
Mt. Edgecumbe boy’s coach Archie Young graduated from Wrangell High School in 1991 with more than a few Wolves’ records. Twice a year, through four seasons, he battled the team he now coaches in the gym that is now his own.
“My sophomore year regionals were here,” Young said. “That was one of my most fun times.”
Young’s Wolves had played the Braves the week before regionals. Both teams were tied for second. The Wolves lost both and entered tourney play as a fifth seed.
“We started the tournament by beating Petersburg by 40,” Young said. “Then we beat Edgecumbe in the semifinals and beat Metlakatla in the finals by one point. Then we lost the crossover championship game to Ketchikan by 50.”
The Kings had 6-foot-10 Trevan Walker and 6-foot-seven Randy Meyer. They had beaten Juneau 61-53 the night before. Juneau featured Bill Demmert, Seth Hunt and Erik McCormick, among others.
“They were huge,” Young said. “But it was great tournament because we ended up beating Edgecumbe on their home floor after losing two games to them a week before.”
Young stated the gym has a feel, a spacing and likened it to being in “an arena-type atmosphere with seating all around.”
JDHS boy’s coach Robert Casperson stated the Crimson Bears need to keep care of the ball like they have the past four games and limit turnovers; executing the offense will give them the opportunity to score and this time of the year is about defense and rebounding.
Casperson, who wore the red and black (graduated in 1996), played as a JV against the Mt. Edgecumbe varsity in the venue and as a varsity player missed out on traveling to the regional tournament at Mt. Edgecumbe his junior year for “disciplinary reasons.”
“Times have changed,” Casperson said. “We are 0-3 against the Edgecumbe varsity the last three years.”
Casperson’s most vivid recollection of the venue is coaching in the 2010 season.
Sophomore’s Lance Ibesate and Tony Yadao battled Ketchikan’s Jeff Whicker in the final seconds of the championship game. Ibesate stole the ball to score just before the buzzer for the region title.
“That was pretty darn exciting,” Casperson said. “I would be okay if history repeats itself. It is such a unique venue and so similar, as a cavernous space, to the state tournament sight at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.”
Casperson said his best play that wasn’t, that is, that almost happened, was in city league. He was playing on a Haines team with Friske and Ben Egolf against a Los Angeles team. On a fast break he spun around and threw a lob to Egolf who was well over the rim but missed the dunk.
“The coolest play that wasn’t,” Casperson said. “I was like, 22, and we had all played against each other in high school. That is why these tournaments are so nice. A lot of fans are players from before.”
JDHS girl’s coach Dee Boster was in her first year of assistant coaching when freshman Talisa Rhea, now playing professional basketball in Poland, was orchestrating the Crimson Bears in 2003 at the venue.
“The last time I coached there our team was one of the more dominant in the region,” JDHS girl’s coach Dee Boster said. “Britney Fenumiai was a senior, Thunder Mountain was just starting their drive and Ketchikan was rebuilding. The gym is so unique because of that floating floor, it can get into a kids head if they haven’t been on it.”
According to Boster the Crimson Bears will have to play their game, and not Ketchikan’s or Thunder Mountains. They will need to take care of the basketball under any kind of pressure defense and will have to pick up their own half-court defense.
Mt. Edgecumbe High School activities director, and dorm manger, Andrew Friske graduated from Haines High School (96).
“We played a lot of conference games here,” Friske said of the McGillis. “It was definitely the biggest gym we ever played in for high school, anywhere. It was always a depth perception compared to other gyms because the background is so far away from the hoops.”
Friske stated the venue now maxes out at 1,600 fans.
“I think the overall venue offers everything to have a great tournament,” Friske said. “Great parking, great concession and seating, and just overall atmosphere with the old field house feel to it.”
An extra court is available for warm ups but the lights are dimmed when main gym action starts which puts whoever is on the floor into the spotlight.
“Sitka is a beautiful spot,” Friske said. “It is a great community that loves basketball. Mix that community with the regional 2A/3A/4A tournament and you get all the fanatics from around southeast together it turns into one of the best atmospheres you can think of.”
Three seasons ago Haines and Mt. Edgecumbe went into overtime. Fossman led that Glacier Bears team to a state championship.
“We had more overtime games and close games that year then I can remember,” Friske said. “I am hoping we can see a similar result this year. There is a lot of parity around the region this year.”
Thunder Mountain girls coach Tanya Nizich played four varsity seasons as a JDHS Crimson Bears guard, graduating in 2000.
“I remember that gym definitely,” Nizich said. “It just felt like such a neutral atmosphere. Our rivals were Ketchikan, so when we got to play in Mt. Edgecumbe it was fair game, anything went. The crowd was not one way or another. It was neutral, they like to watch basketball. The court makes you feel like you are in an arena, a professional feel. Every court has their perks: Ketchikan is open, JDHS because it is old school and tournament, Thunder Mountain is light and bright, and at Edgecumbe you feel like you are on the center stage.”
According to Nizich the Falcons will have to play like they have on their road trips up north, where they competed with some of the top teams in the state.
The gym has history for many.
Bill Ordway, then JDHS coach, state “My God,” when he walked in there the first time, “We got the Madison Square Garden of Alaska here.:
Ordway was from the East Coast so he knew about MSG.
In 1968 a majority of the Petersburg Vikings were kicked off at tourney. Wilmer Oines, Harold Thompson and the team manager on the floor still steered the team to third place.
I never lost a regular season game there as a Petersburg Vikings four-year varsity starter (graduated 1978). I did bow out gracefully in the first round of my sophomore year in 1976 as Juneau-Douglas’ Bret Schmiege and Kurt Milnes gave us a hurting. My hair at the time was a lot longer than my memory now, my shorts then would be classified as obscene now, but that magical playing arena will never change.
TMHS boy’s coach John Blasco stated the Falcons have won games in various ways this season and their strengths are the inside game and composure at guard play, which makes them a balanced team.
Blasco also wore the Crimson Bears’ red and black, graduating in 2000 as well.
“I have always enjoyed the gym ,” Blasco said. “Its elevated floor is a lot springier and the way it is set up is like a spot-lighted court. They can get a lot of fans around and is a good environment. I can’t pinpoint one game, I was never a star of a team, and I was more of the guy that just got the ball to his teammates to get the job done. I can visualize playing there, but it was 13 years ago. I guess if I scored 69 points I would remember it too.”
Dave Ohmer recently reviewed his scoring achievement.
“I don’t know what happened,” Ohmer said. “We started good, they started horrible.”
Ohmer had just 11 of the Vikings 44 first half points. The third quarter he notched 31 more. In an eight-minute quarter that is four points a minute, or a bucket every 30 seconds.
“They were coming pretty fast,” Ohmer laughed. “Honest to god it was a blur.”
At the end of the third quarter the loud speaker blared that Ohmer had just scored his 42nd point of the game.
PSG coach Steve Eberly stated at the games end, “Wow 69 points, one more and it would have been 70, that would have been cool.”
Penciled in among the dashes, dots, x’s and o’s that revealed the various spots Ohmer’s orb launchings originated was a familiar name...
B. J. McGillis was the head keeper of the scorebook that day. His named scrawled upon the moment.
Note: The Region V tournament will be web streamed live at www.mehs.us, the Mt. Edgecumbe High School web site. Click on the MEHS Live Video notation and enjoy the new memories.