First games in shiny new crosstown rivalry don't disappoint

Posted: Sunday, February 07, 2010

Now that's what prep sports should be about.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

If you didn't get there early Friday night, then you didn't get a good parking spot (except for those who decided to just park on the sidewalk outside of Juneau-Douglas High school).

The line was out the door and many had to be turned away as the gym swelled to capacity. Even the aisles were filled with fans in the den of the Crimson Bears.

There was no better place to be this weekend than at Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools, where the two new friendly rivals tipped off for the first time ever in boys' basketball.

The gyms were, without a doubt, electric (I can't wait until 2011 when they play each other in football for the first time).

I haven't been here long, but I think it's safe to say that Juneau hasn't seen anything like this when it comes to prep sports since Carlos Boozer was busy giving slam-dunk facials to opponents a full decade ago.

Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco, who played with Boozer at JDHS, agreed.

"It was an awesome enviroment. This was truly what kids should be living and dying for when playing," he said. "I haven't seen a crowd like this since Carlos was here, and we used to feed off it and love it. I can understand why JDHS played so well. We had a good crowd, too, and you just can't beat this type of game. It's a great experiecne, win or lose."

"Hopefully, we can get this kind of crowd every time we play and get the support from the community," JDHS coach Steve Potter said afterward.

Crimson Bear senior Alex DeRocher said it was the best enviroment he's ever played in.

"I've never played in a game like this before," he beamed, fresh after dropping 20 points to lead all scorers Friday. "My freshman year, when all the main seniors were here, was the last time I remember a packed house. It's a lot different atmosphere. This easily topped homecoming last week. It was intense and it helped our team get the extra step. It was great. I absolutely loved it."

Juneau-Douglas won both games handily, but nobody really lost. The Falcons don't feel great about the way they played, but realize they were a part of something special.

They were a part of history, like all those in attendance, including Governor Sean Parnell, who posted up behind the press table Friday (he must have gotten there early for such a prime seat).

Coaches and friends Potter and Blasco shared a handshake, back slap and smiles before the game. The starters did the same before tip off.

And the games were fun; physical, but fun. TMHS freshman forward Gary Speck had his nose bloodied just minutes into the first game - though not because of malicious intent from any opposing player.

The JDHS student section was out in full force on Friday, chanting and cheering until many - like senior Jack Perkins - lost their voices. Some kids were painted black, which is awesome.

I thought the JDHS kids kept it classy, which is commendable. They may have booed the TMHS cheerleaders at the start of a routine in the second half, but then they totally redeemed themselves by giving them a spirited round of applause as the cheer wound down.

And booing opposing cheerleaders certainly isn't the worst thing I've ever seen. That's pretty tame, actually.

The return game at Thunder Mountain was just as much fun with the stands packed again and the crowd just as loud. Both student sections were full, rowdy and rockin'.

Before the fourth quarter started, four TMHS students painted blue did a lap around the court with signs with the school letters on them, getting the crowd on its feet. Not to be outdone, two JDHS students painted red chased the boys in blue another lap around the gym as the crowd roared.

It was truly a great moment.

"I hope the fans had fun. It seemed like everybody was into it," Blasco said. "The community can see that the kids are still friends, and that's the fun part for us. I love all those guys over there and I respect them."

"It's brotherly," DeRocher said of the relationships between the two school's players. "We've all played basketball with each other over the years, and we all have each other's respect as players. At times, it may get a little physical because the adrenaline's going in the moment. But other than that, I think it's fine. It's just a great basketball rivalry because we're so evenly matched up."

The record book may say Juneau-Douglas 2, Thunder Mountain 0, but no one won more than the community of Juneau.

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