In a town known for its love of basketball, tucked away among the tides and currents of Frederick Sound on the north side of Kupreanof Island, a special moment will take place in a tiny gym before a game between two small schools.
On Monday, Jan. 20, after the Kake Thunderbirds girls play the Angoon girls, and before the two schools boys’ teams play, the Kake City School District will hold a gym-naming ceremony.
The community, built on a culture where names mean much more than identity, will honor former coach Dwayne Davies, bestowing his name on the high school gym.
“I have always felt basketball is a team sport,” Davies said. “I am truly honored. This is a reflection of my players more than me.”
Davies is a 40-year state educator and 2008 Alaska High School Hall of Fame basketball coach selection, who once guided both the Kake boys and girls teams to a state championship in the same season.
Davies graduated from Wrangell High School in 1970.
“I was very fortunate growing up in Wrangell,” Davies said. “My parents were very supportive and when it came to coaching, it started in high school with coach Carroll Merritt and teacher Robert Grant pushing me to become the best I could be.”
After earning a teaching degree from the University of Portland, Davies returned to student teach in Wrangell.
Wrangell Institute, on the verge of closing, was looking for five teachers and Davies’ science background landed him a position. He also wanted to coach but the school already had an established basketball presence. The wrestling program, however, was about to falter.
“The only coaching position was wrestling,” Davies said. “I knew nothing about wrestling.”
School youth asked Davies for his help.
“It was a real guilt trip,” Davies said with a laugh. “But it was great. The out-of-town coaches and the Wrangell coaches would come to my practice and help me and the kids out. We were runner-up in the junior high tournament that year in Juneau. It was a great time and a heck of a learning experience.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was closing its schools statewide and the Institute shut its doors the following year. Davies moved to Mt. Edgecumbe in 1975, teaching math and science and coaching cross-country running, track and field and girls’ basketball.
“I was fortunate to have the support of athletic director (and principal) Gil Truitt and my mentor was varsity girls’ coach Rod Nutting, teaching me the values and possibilities of coaching.”
Davies coached with Phil Jordan, who would go on to win three state basketball championships in Anchorage (Service ‘91, Bartlett ‘95, Lumen Christi ‘04).
Davies exemplified what southeast Alaska sports was about at that time. With a wife, Debbie, and three small children, Davies would often house two or three opposing players in the family’s small, two-bedroom house.
“It was always pretty crowded there for two or three days a week,” Davies said.
Davies remembers one tough game while coaching the Lady Braves. Former Petersburg Vikings’ and Alaska scoring record holder Dave Ohmer coached the visiting Petersburg girls.
“Dave and I went into a five overtime game,” Davies said. “Unfortunately, I lost. It was a great game. He was a good coach.”
BIA closed Mt. Edgecumbe in 1983. It had been slated to close the prior year but then-Sen. Frank Murkowski vowed to the students to fight to keep it open. Alumni and Murkowski flooded state legislators with letters and it reopened on Sept. 30, 1985, under the state.
Davies, meanwhile, moved to Kake in 1984, where he still lives, and began his most legendary coaching.
“We fell in love with Kake immediately,” Davies said.
The first year in Kake, Davies guided the boys to the state championship over Noorvik 58-52. It was the first 2A state championship game played in Sullivan Arena under the new reclassification guidelines.
“That was neat,” Davies said. “The northern schools always got the publicity and I think that was to our advantage. They ignored us and stayed away from us. That inspired our guys even more when they saw the other schools’ write ups in the newspapers.”
That team included Lonnie Anderson, Gene Cavanaugh, Rod Cavanaugh, Mike Martin and Jeff Jackson, among others.
The following year, he picked up the girls team, coaching both for seven years. Both squads won four region championships apiece.
In March 1987, when Davies’ Thunderbirds captured both team titles in Sullivan Arena, they were games for the ages. The Kake girls beat Tok 47-46 and the boys outlasted Northway 76-74 in double overtime.
That Thunderbirds girls’ team would be runner-up to Tok in the title game the next two seasons (54-34 in 1988, 47-38 in 1989).
“It was tough at that time remembering the two individual games,” Davies said. “It was afterward in the hotel, with modern technology I used a VCR to watch the replay. I was so exhausted I lay in bed and fell asleep in my suit watching the game and not believing that we did it.”
Back-to-back state championship games, let alone victories, may never happen again.
“I remember taking my suit jacket off after the girls won,” Davies said. “I set it on the back of the chair, exhausted, and tried to regroup. The boys were jumping around ready to get going.”
Coaching two teams brought togetherness.
“What I loved was the consistency between the two teams,” Davies said. “We did the same drills, basically the same offense and sometimes competed against each other.”
Davies said the girls picked up the Xs and Os and new patterns and drills fast.
“The boys were aggressive and assertive,” Davies said. “So they both taught each other and usually once a week we had a practice together. We would work on fundamentals and then compete against each other.”
Among the Thunderbirds in that season were Rudy Bean, Joanna Ashenfelter, Dawn Jackson, Lloyd and Nick Davis, Holly Lambert, Jay Peterson, Evelyn Anderson, Debbie Johnson and Davies’ daughters Tera and Tabitha. These would be players that added to the Kake name in future tournaments like the annual Lions Club Gold Medal events in Juneau.
“Rudy and these guys were much like my first state championship crew,” Davies said. “They had such tenacity, they were easy to coach. They understood the game of basketball and they loved the game of basketball. Nothing was going to stop them. The harder it came at them, the more they relaxed. It was like ‘Bring it on, we will deal with it.’”
Davies was named the 1987 Coach of the Year and was nominated for the Alaska Sportsman of the Year.
That respect was well-deserved as his cross-country teams at Mt. Edgecumbe and Kake excelled. As a classroom teacher, Davies set high standards for himself and his students in his math and science classes.
Davies is no longer coaching but is still teaching half-time in the school district, where enrollment has fallen below 100 students, with roughly 20 in the high school.
“After Edgecumbe closed, Kake was our first stop looking for a job,” Davies said. “They hired me and asked if I would coach the boys. I had one year with the girls first. All the players on these teams already played from youth on up. They had parents and coaches who were enthused, just like the old days in Wrangell and Petersburg, they just constantly played ball. They were a great bunch. After the first year, not only my wife and I, but our own kids, just loved Kake. We stayed on, bought a home and this is our 31st year here.”
Davies retired from coaching in 1990 with a 308-88 record. He was also named as the girls’ basketball coach for the 1990 Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, winning a Silver Ulu. Davies coached the girls’ team and Juneau’s George Houston the boys, with both playing their high school-age kids against teams that included college freshmen. Hoonah’s April Johnson represented Southeast Alaska on Davies’ team.
Davies has been awarded the Alaska Schools Activities Association (ASAA) Gold Lifetime Pass, another honor that shows how respected he is across the state. This pass allows free admission, for two, to any ASAA event.
“In Kake the athletes were not only great ball players but good students and helpful, caring individuals,” Davies said. “The parents of the Thunderbirds supported me and the team by raising money but more importantly supporting our teams and me in all aspects of the game and academics.”
The naming ceremony will be held between the girls’ and boys’ basketball games between Kake and Angoon at 7 p.m., Jan. 20.
The Kake School Board would like to encourage any former students, staff, players or community members to attend. If you will not be able to attend and would like to drop a note, picture or other information for Coach Davies, please contact Debbie Johnson-James at: email@example.com or Kake Schools at 907-785-3741.
The Kake Thunderbirds are a young team this season. Their core is in the junior and sophomore class. While the team does not have the numbers, they have the name.
“The Kake Thunderbirds are coming,” Davies said. “I think they are going to be competitive.”