After a 12-year drought, Southeast Alaska finally earned the right to host a state high school tournament. But Mother Nature is threatening to spoil the party.
Fog on Thursday kept most of the teams from reaching Ketchikan for the start of the Class 4A state wrestling tournament, throwing the weekend's schedule into disarray.
As of 11 this morning, 10 teams, including those from Juneau and Sitka, had made it into Ketchikan to join the host team, the Kayhi Kings. That left nine other teams in a holding pattern, with Kodiak stuck at Juneau Airport, all the Anchorage teams still in Anchorage, and two other teams stranded in Seattle.
"We're waiting right now for flights to come in today to see if we can still pull it off here," Alaska School Activities Association Assistant Director John Andrews said from Ketchikan this morning. Andrews, who is in charge of state tournaments for ASAA, and ASAA Executive Director Gary Mat-thews said the group remains committed to holding the tourney at Kayhi if at all possible.
"We've got everything in place," Andrews said. "Ketchikan has done a great job of getting the high school ready. It would be a big disappointment" to see the event moved or canceled.
One flight made it into Ketchikan this morning, and the rest of the teams were scheduled to arrive into Ketchikan by this evening. Weather conditions were improving in Ketchikan.
The tournament was scheduled to be held Friday and Saturday, but the weather delays likely will push all the events back one day.
"I think our best-case scenario is to get everyone here (Friday), then wrestle on Saturday and Sunday," Ketchikan High School Activities Director Ed Willburn said Thursday night. "We still have to have our coaches' meeting, so I don't think we'll be able to wrestle (Friday)."
While high school sports events usually are not held on Sundays, ASAA executive director Matthews said the group makes exceptions for transportation problems.
According to Rex Westergard, a parent with the Ketchikan Wrestling Club, the fog wasn't that bad Wednesday and Thursday, but it was just enough to keep planes from landing.
Complicating things was the repair of a navigational aid near the airport. The aid has been fixed, but the Federal Aviation Administration hasn't certified it yet because the plane that checks the aid is broken down in Juneau, Willburn said. He said if the aid had been certified, planes probably could have landed.
One of the biggest problems was in Anchorage, where the Anchorage School District chartered a plane to bring all of its teams to Ketchikan, only to have flights canceled Wednesday and Thursday.
Todd Arndt, high school supervisor for the Anchorage School District, said this morning that the district's charter flight remains on standby, and the teams will continue their efforts to get to Ketchikan unless they receive other directions from ASAA.
Juneau coach Bob Mahon, whose team was the first to arrive in Ketchikan, said the Crimson Bear wrestlers are feeling fine in the familiar surroundings and are taking advantage of the extra time to practice.
"We're comfortable, we're sleeping good," he said this morning. "We're at home."
Those in Ketchikan on Thursday reported rumors of the tournament being canceled or moved to Anchorage because of the fog - rumors ASAA officials stressed were untrue.
Ketchikan was the only place to put in a timely bid to host the state tournament and there were threats of a boycott over travel costs even before the weather problems arose. The last Southeast state tournament of any sort took place in 1991 when the Class 4A basketball championship was in Sitka. The only time in the last three decades Ketchikan has hosted a state tournament was the 1984 basketball tourney.
"We hope the teams can get into town tomorrow," Ketchikan wrestling coach Rick Collins said Thursday. "We have thousands of dollars invested in hosting the tournament. ... There's total devastation here, we're all just devastated."
Ketchikan High School officials remain steadfast in their desire to keep the long-awaited state tournament at Kayhi.
"They're going to have to pry this tournament from my cold, dead fingers," Willburn said Thursday night. "We're hanging onto this as long as we can. We've got an extraordinary group of people trying to get this thing to happen here. We've even got boats lined up to get to Wrangell in case flights end up having to land there."
Charles Bingham and Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.