It would be a bit of an understatement to say 2004 was a busy year in Southeast Alaska sports.
There were several stories that would be the highlights of other years, but this time they're down the list of the top tales. Let's take a look, shall we?
We had a Juneau-Douglas High School graduate earn a bronze medal in basketball at the Olympics, and he created a nationwide controversy when he changed NBA teams as a free agent;
We had another JDHS graduate become just the second former Alaska high school or American Legion baseball player to make the major leagues;
Four JDHS teams won state championships this year, and a host of others came close to joining that list;
We had 37 Southeast Alaska residents make various Team Alaska squads for the Arctic Winter Games;
We had two Southeast Alaska residents compete in their sports' U.S. Olympic Team Trials this summer, and they both helped college teams win national championships; and
We had a Juneau resident win a Disabled World Cup ski event and a national title.
And that just starts our list of the area's top sports stories of 2004. So sit back as we review the top sports stories of 2004 for Southeast Alaska.
Carlos Boozer goes to the Olympics and the Utah Jazz
July 8 was an especially busy day for 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Carlos Boozer Jr.
It was on that day Boozer was officially named to the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, and it was that same day that Boozer reached an agreement to sign a free-agent contract with the Utah Jazz. Both events sent the former Cleveland Cavalier on a roller-coaster ride through the rest of the summer.
Before July 8, Boozer was considered one of the rare blue-collar heroes of the NBA because of his work ethic and his low salary for a second-year, second-round draft pick. Boozer came in second in the voting for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award after recording 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds a game for the Cavaliers. And then, even though Cleveland held a team option for a third year, the Cavaliers unexpectedly decided to make Boozer a limited free agent. The Utah Jazz came calling with a six-year, $68-million offer, compared to Cleveland's offer of about $30 to $41 million, and Boozer chose the Jazz.
That touched off a nationwide controversy, especially in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers felt Boozer had betrayed their trust by moving elsewhere. A couple of Cavs fans even created a Web site called CarlosLoozer.com, while sports columnists took potshots at Boozer's reputation.
The Olympics gave Boozer a refuge of sorts during the summer, as he was able to return to the playing court and work on regaining his reputation. Boozer came off the bench for Team USA, averaging 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game while shooting 62.5 percent from the field. Team USA, which had more than a dozen NBA stars decline invitations to play in the Olympics, went through its own bit of controversy after losing to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina during the Olympics. It won the bronze medal with a 5-3 record.
So far this NBA season, the Jazz have struggled to an 11-19 record as forward Andrei Kirilenko has been injured and their point guards have been erratic. Boozer leads the Jazz with 20.2 points and 9.7 rebounds a game, and he's the only Utah player to start in all 30 games to date.
Chad Bentz makes the majors
On April 3, Chad Bentz found out he'd get to live every baseball player's dream. That was the day the 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate found out he'd play for the Montreal Expos.
Bentz, 24, became just the second former high school or American Legion baseball player from Alaska to make the majors, joining former Kenai pitcher Marshall Boze.
"I was wondering, 'Am I cut?' But Frank Robinson pulled me aside and said, 'Congratulations, you're a big leaguer,'" Bentz said of that fateful day. "I told him thank you for the opportunity, and he said 'you earned it.' I told him I'd bust my butt for him and the team every day to help it win."
A left-handed relief pitcher, Bentz saw action in 35 games for the Expos, posting a 5.86 ERA and an 0-3 record before he was sent back down to the minor leagues in late July to work on a slider. Injuries hampered the rest of his season.
Bentz, who was born with a malformed right hand that he calls his "birthmark," uses his left hand to both pitch and catch, switching his glove between hands like former major leaguer Jim Abbott did. Bentz takes pride in his fielding and has yet to make an error in four years of professional baseball, plus he went 1-for-2 with a single in his two major league at-bats last season.
Last month, Bentz was waived by the Washington Nationals (the former Expos). After clearing waivers, he signed a minor league contract with the Florida Marlins that includes an invitation to spring training. Right now the Marlins have no other left-handed relief pitchers with recent major league experience on their 40-man roster, so Bentz has a decent chance to return to the show.
Four state titles for JDHS sports teams
The Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears filled their school trophy cases in 2004 as four teams won state titles and four other squads finished second in their state tournaments.
The JDHS boys cross-country running team claimed its second straight state title in October in Soldotna, as senior Tristan Knutson-Lombardo took second place individually, junior Tyler Dinnan was third and junior Wesley Dinnan finished seventh. The Juneau boys had 54 points, while runner-up West Valley scored 91.
The Crimson Bears girls softball team battled back through the losers' bracket to win its second state title in three years and its third overall by beating the previously unbeaten Chugiak Mustangs 3-1 in the championship game in June in Fairbanks. Then-juniors Ashley Larson, Ilea Belcourt and Jordan Johnston made the all-tournament team for Juneau.
The JDHS boys swimming and diving team also claimed its second state championship in three years in November in Anchorage, and this time the boys didn't have to share the title with Soldotna (the teams tied in 2002). With just six swimmers seeing action in the state meet, the Crimson Bears won the 200-yard medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay, while senior Q Smyth won the 100 free and sophomore Kyle O'Brien won the 500 free.
And the JDHS girls soccer team completed an undefeated season when it won its first state championship with a 2-1 victory over the Service Cougars in May in Wasilla. It was Juneau's first victory over the perennial state power Cougars in more than 15 years. The Crimson Bears also won the tournament's academic award with a 3.72 team GPA, and they placed five players on the all-tournament team - seniors Greta Thibodeau, Julie Heard, Crystal Barr, Alida Bus and sophomore Jessy Post. Juneau senior captain Laura Flynn was named Gatorade State Player of the Year.
If that wasn't enough, three other individuals and a relay team from JDHS won state titles in 2004 - then-junior Tristan Knutson-Lombardo won the boys 1,600 meters at the state track meet in May, then-sophomore Gerry Carrillo won the 103-pound title at the state wrestling tournament in February, current sophomore Kristin Jones won the girls 500 freestyle at the state swim meet and the girls 400 free relay team also claimed a state title at the state swim meet.
Coming close to joining the list of state champions from Juneau were the girls basketball team, the boys soccer team, the girls cross-country running team and the girls swimming and diving team, who all finished second in their respective state events.
Two other Juneau teams lost to the eventual champions in the semifinals of their state tournaments - with the baseball team finishing third after a 5-4 loss to Kodiak and the football team tying for third place after a 58-30 loss to North Pole. The JDHS volleyball team also made the semifinals, but finished fifth after losses to eventual champion Service and third-place Colony.
While no other Southeast school won a state championship this year, there were several individuals who won state titles. Sitka's Matt Way won his second straight 100-yard breaststroke title and Petersburg's Abbey Jackson won the girls 100 backstroke at the state swim meet, and Sitka's Dianne Chong won the triple jump at the state track meet.
Also, a Class 3A team won a Southeast boys basketball title for the second straight year as Metlakatla beat Ketchikan 81-74 in overtime in the Southeast Class 3A-Class 4A crossover championship game last March. Metlakatla star Chris Bryant signed to play NCAA Division I basketball at Drake University. The Juneau girls beat Petersburg 42-39 in their Southeast crossover game.
Arctic Winter Games ulu haul
More than three dozen athletes and coaches from Juneau mined a slew of gold, silver and bronze ulus (medals) for Team Alaska in March at the 2004 Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo, Alberta.
The all-Southeast snowshoe contingent (six athletes and two coaches) brought back the most ulus, with three gold, six silver and five bronze ulus. The Team Alaska men's volleyball team, which had eight Southeast members, won a gold ulu, as did the women's volleyball team that had one Juneau player. The five indoor soccer teams, which had at least one Southeast representative on each squad, won two gold, one silver and two bronze ulus.
The boys basketball team won a bronze ulu with two Southeast reps, and the half-Juneau gymnastics team won a bronze ulu in the team event. Southeast Alaska athletes also competed in table tennis and badminton.
Gibb, Blackhurst compete in U.S. Olympic Trials
Swimmer Derek Gibb of Petersburg and steeplechase runner Carl Blackhurst of Haines fell short in their personal bids to make their respective U.S. Olympic teams, but they did help their colleges win national championships. Both athletes plan to make bids for the 2008 Olympics.
Gibb, whose parents now live in Juneau, was on three national champion relay teams as the Auburn University men's swim team won its second straight NCAA Division I title in March. Gibb, then a senior, was a member of two teams that posted the fastest times ever recorded in NCAA or international competition - in the 200-yard freestyle and 400 free relays - and he was on the winning 200 medley relay team. Gibb also placed fifth in 50 free. At the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Trials, Gibb posted personal-record times as he finished 15th in the 50-meter freestyle and 19th in the 100 backstroke.
Blackhurst, who is a graduate assistant coach in track and cross-country running at his alma mater Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo., helped guide his school's women's cross-country running team to the NCAA Division II championship. At the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Blackhurst finished 10th in his preliminary heat of 3,000-meter steeplechase with a season-best time.
While Gibb and Blackhurst didn't earn trips to Athens for the Olympics, there were two Juneau representatives at the event. Carlos Boozer was on the men's basketball team (see above), while Jeff Donaldson of Juneau served as a bike mechanic for the U.S. Triathlon Team.
Joe Tompkins wins World Cup and U.S. title
Juneau resident Joe Tompkins had one of his best years for the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team in 2004, and that earned him a promotion from the "C" team to the "A" team.
Tompkins, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1988 car wreck, won his second career Disabled World Cup ski race, his first victory in more than four years.
Tompkins won a Disabled World Cup super-G race in January, then went on to post four top-10 finishes in the Disabled World Championships a week later. The Disabled World Cup victory was the first win for Tompkins since he won the first official Disabled World Cup race in December 1999. In March, Tompkins closed out the 2003-04 season by winning the giant slalom title at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Championships.
So far in the 2004-05 season, Tompkins has raced just once. Last month, he finished third among mono-skiers in the giant slalom race held as part of the Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colo.
Gold Medal wraps up 58th year
The village of Kake suffered through a rough year, with untimely deaths to several key members of the community. But the Kake Tlingit Heat gave the village something to celebrate when they claimed the B Bracket title in the 58th Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament with an 86-77 overtime victory over Huna ANB.
In the other adult brackets, the Huna Old-Timers won their fourth C Bracket title in six years with a 102-68 romp over the Juneau Green Team, Juneau's Marlintini's Arctic Lights won their second A Bracket title in three years with a 104-82 victory over Sitka ANB/ANS, and Angoon Kwaan claimed the Women's Bracket title with a 75-56 victory over Kake KWBA. A host of middle school teams from around the region played in the associated Southeast Shootout.
Juneau cyclists win Kluane; runners among Klondike's best
For the first time in six years, a Juneau team won the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay from Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, to Haines, Alaska.
The Les Schwab Two team of Steve Box, Jan Kriegel, Chris Scholes and Joe Sorenson won the eight-stage, 148-mile race in a five-team sprint that saw all five squads recording the same time of 6 hours, 53 minutes, 17 seconds. The Les Schwab group of four four-man teams had another squad (One) take fifth place in the sprint, while solo rider John McConnochie of Juneau took fourth place.
McConnochie later went on to claim the triple crown of Alaska/Yukon cycling by winning the Tour of Whitehorse, the Tour of Juneau and the Tour of Anchorage overall titles.
At September's Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay, a 10-stage, 110-mile overnight running race from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, the Juneau-based Vestigial Appendages team finished second overall and first in the mixed division with a time of 12 hours, 27 minutes, 16 seconds.
Juneau's Lady GUDivas won the masters women's division in record time, and Juneau's Smokin' Ole Geezers won the masters open division for yet another year.
Salmon derby winners are smallest, largest ever
The 26.5-pound king salmon caught by Carol Munro on August 21 wasn't huge, but it was just big enough to win the 58th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby.
Munro and her husband, Billy Cameron, reeled in the winning fish at Favorite Reef, just off Shelter Island, early on the second morning of the three-day derby. It was, by a pound, the smallest fish ever to win the derby. In the previous 57 years of the derby, only five winning fish had weighed less than 30 pounds.
It was the opposite story in the month-long Spring King Salmon Derby, held in May. Juneau police officer Robert Dilley brought in a mammoth 51.4-pound king salmon on the last day of fishing, breaking the eight-year-old derby's record for the largest fish.
Juneau synchronized swimmers advance in junior national team trials
Two members of the Juneau Aurora Knights synchronized swim team advanced to the third level of the four-stage tryout system for the U.S. Junior National Team.
Kimiko "Koko" Urata and Sarah Felix, who are both freshmen at Juneau-Douglas High School, have to qualify for the national team trials as individuals. But the pair had their best success at a meet as a duo, when they posted the top duet routine score and ended up winning the silver medal at the Esynchro Age Group Synchronized Swimming Championships in June.
Many other Juneau and Southeast athletes found success in 2004, including the Juneau Jumpers jump rope team and several Gastineau Channel Little League squads. All of the Empire's local sports coverage from the past year can be accessed in archives on the Web at http://www.juneauempire.com.
Andrew Krueger contributed to this report. The Juneau Empire sports desk thanks Southeast athletes, coaches and fans for a memorable 2004, and we offer our best wishes for continued success in the year ahead. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.