The 1963 Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears boy’s basketball team came into the southeast tournament at Ketchikan with a 15-1 conference record, but would need a miracle to take the title.
Coach John Borbridge Jr. was in his second year at the helm. His predecessor, Bill Ordway, was the most successful high school coach in Alaska, winning state championships in 1955 (Ordway’s first year), 1958, and then in 1960 with uniforms opponents called “candy stripers.”
Borbridge, a Tlingit, previously coached Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson and had given Ordway’s Crimson Bears very competitive games.
Now Borbridge had inherited those striped jerseys and some heavy expectations.
“There was pressure on him to win right away,” then junior Jeff Prather said.
The Crimson Bears were down in their first tournament game by seven to Petersburg at half time. It would take 18 points by junior forward Richard Olson and 16 by junior guard Pat Gullufsen to secure the win.
Mt. Edgecumbe, with two of the state’s best players in Peter Boskofsky and Mark White, would defeat Ketchikan, setting up the title match with Juneau.
The gym, packed with standing-room-only anti-Juneau fans, did feature 90 brave Crimson Bears’ souls who ventured over on the new Alaska Marine Ferry System.
Travel prior to that time came by way of Grumman Goose and PBY, and fishing boat.
According to Juneau Empire sports writer Vern Metcalfe the Crimson Bears, having been in nine of the last 15 state playoffs, and in their pinstriped uniforms, “were about as popular as the Yankees in Brooklyn.”
The Mt. Edgecumbe Braves had lost four straight to JDHS in conference play, but were playing the best ball in the tournament after defeating Ketchikan.
The Braves uses a 2-1-2 zone defense, forcing Juneau to shoot from outside, and led the capital city boys by seven at the half.
Juneau Empire reporter Leslie Sullivan wrote there was wildness in the crowd as they sensed a Juneau defeat.
Juneau came back to tie the score at the end of the third quarter as Mike Triplett, Wayne Matheny and Gullufsen had six points each.
Matheny, a senior center, was the anchor of the team. He and teammate Sasha Soboleff were sophomores just two years earlier and instrumental in defeating an amateur team called the Vacationers in the Christmas Basketball Jamboree. That team was comprised of Juneau greats Roger Grummett, Alan Gray, Tom Blanton, Jim Brown (state champs 1960), Stu Whitehead, Andy Pekovich, Joe Poor, Dave Gray and Joe Swanson (1958 state champs), and Pete and Eric McDowell (Haines).
Edgecumbe was not impressed by Juneau’s reputation. The Braves went up by four points in the fourth quarter. Both teams played aggressively, at one point ball possession changed four times in one minute.
With 25 seconds left, Juneau senior Jan Dabney hit two free throws. Now trailing by two, the Crimson Bears made a scramble as Edgecumbe inbounded the ball.
“What I remember is in the last seconds I stole the ball and rand down the court,” Dabney said, 50 years later. “I was going to try and make a basket to tie up the game and I hit the back of the rim, a clunker. I was horrified that I had missed it.”
What Olson remembers 50 years later was trailing Dabney down the court, bodies all around him and then jumping.
“Dick Olson jammed it through the basket,” Dabney said.
Metcalfe wrote that Olson, “All but took the backboard, hoop and net out of action.”
Olson stated the put back was lucky.
“It was euphoria and excitement and the love of my teammates when it went in,” Olson said. “We, at least for a moment, were in a different dimension.”
Juneau would win in a chaotic overtime and the Crimson Bears would now face the Eielson Ravens for the state championship. Most of the players had never been north of Haines, let alone to an Air Force base south of Fairbanks and most remember how cold it was there in mid-March. The Ravens gym, Baker Field House, was a hangar for jet bombers.
“It was just huge and the gym floor didn’t take up that much space,” Pat Gullufsen, a junior guard, said. “It was a different environment.”
Jan Dabney stated he and his fellow seniors Sobeloff and Matheny were very full of themselves and happy to be there, but were taken aback by how aggressive the Eielson team was.
The Crimson Bears trailed by 17 points late in the 3rd quarter of the first game when coach Borbridge called a time out.
Senior team manager Jim Alter stated the coach was always in control of his emotions but could use a bit of Psychology.
“I raised my voice,” Borbridge said I a recent interview. “And slammed the floor and this caused the boys to blink. You know what to do, now go do it, now get out there and go do it. That is a boiled down version.”
Sports writer Vern Metcalfe wrote that the game was once again into cardiac cannon and reminded him of the southeast championship.
The Crimson Bears went to their strength of pressing defense and bench depth and with seven minutes to go Eielson’s lead was just 10 points. JDHS lost Richard Olson to fouls.
Metcalfe noted the press was relentless.
With most of Juneau back home glued to their radio sets, the play-by-play broadcast revealed an epic comeback.
Gullufsen scores for two and Matheny made a foul shot to cut the lead to one point with four minutes remaining.
The lead would grow to three and then back to one for Eielson until junior guard Doc Eide, the best pure shooter on the team, put the Crimson Bears up for good with a 16-foot jumper, 53-52, and Dabney clinched it with two foul shots.
Eielson evened the series at a game apiece with a 64-44 game two victory.
Before the start of the third and final game, the Ravens tried to “trash talk” JDHS’ Jeff Prather, calling him a “Rookie.”
Prather stated that he remembers responding with something a bit harsher.
The Crimson Bears went up 9-0 but led just 40-38 at the end of the third quarter as Matheny fouled out with 12 points.
Prather, the tallest on the floor at 6-foot-4, and the youngest at age 16, replaced him.
Mike Triplett scored twice to put Juneau up early in the 4th quarter 46-44.
Then Prather was fouled hard numerous times by Eielson. Prather made five straight from the charity stripe and a long shot from 30-feet away.
Gullufsen closed out the Juneau scoring with two foul shots that made the score 52-48. Eielson closed to 52-50 with just seconds remaining but Triplett secured the ball.
50 years after the championship the importance is still felt.
“Oh yeah, you bet it is,” Gullufsen said. “In Juneau in those days the expectation was that you would win, so winning that championship was important and it is something that stays with you.”
Dabney state it provided him a lot of confidence as he left high school to begin adulthood, and showed the kind of cooperation and hard work necessary for a group of people to accomplish a common goal.
Olson remembered coach Borbridge as a role model and mentor who was there for him when he ran into problems off the court.
“If you see him, please let him know that I have not forgotten any of that,” Olson said. “I hold him in the highest esteem and as a part of who I have become.”
Borbridge became president of the Central Council of the Tlingit Haida Corporation in 1967. He was instrumental in the 1971 passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that cleared land titles to make way for the Alaska Pipeline. He lives in Juneau.
Matheny recently retired as an optometrist and lives near Seattle. Olson teaches high school in San Francisco. Sobeloff lives in Juneau and is a retired teacher and administrator. Triplett lives in California and has worked in construction. Gullufsen is a retired district attorney and lives in Juneau. Dabney owns a design engineer firm in California. Eide spent 35 years flying for Alaska Airlines and is now retired and lives near Seattle. John Bertholl owned and operated Douglas Oil Heat and Arness Pumping. He lives in Juneau and Seattle. John Stringer’s is a former editor of the Juneau Empire and is now an attorney living in San Francisco. Jim Alter is a retired negotiator for the Alaska Teacher’s Association and lives in Juneau. Jeff Prather is a supervisor for the Department of Revenue and lives in Juneau. Mike Dodd and Dennis Carlson both played for the Bears at various times during the 1962-63 season. Dodd owned a real estate business and recently passed away.
Note: Mac Metcalfe, is the son of Vern Metcalfe, and a cousin of Pat Gullufsen and Jeff Prather.
Juneau Empire Sports Editor Klas Stolpe contributed to this story.