Each year the Gold Medal tournament delivers electric performances from athletes who display a rare combination of skill and sportsmanship. Special players rise to special occasions, sparking their hometown brothers to championships the entire community can be proud of.
For a special few, the passion, dedication, professionalism and respect shown on the court simply spills over from the day-to-day lives that they share with their respective communities. It is for those individuals that the Hall of Fame awaits.
During the 2009 Gold Medal Tournament, one special player, coach or superfan is going to be honored as the 100th member of the tournament's Hall of Fame. Speculation and rumor is likely to increase throughout the tournament, guessing at who will be the next member of that exclusive group.
Sometimes the announcement comes to the athlete as a surprise, and for others, it may be just a matter of time. Many members were prolific scorers, rebounders, and playmakers on the court. Others may have set marks for consecutive games played, but some consider their time in the coach's corner to be their greatest achievement in Gold Medal competition. No road to the Hall of Fame is the same, but the election committee follows similar guidelines for each inductee - weighing the player's history of tournament accolades, current involvement with Gold Medal, and their active community service works.
A WORKING MAN'S COACH
One Hall of Famer who paved his road with sweat and hard work is 1999 selection Al Duncan from Sitka. As a head coach, Duncan successfully spearheaded a group of blue-collar teams that lacked the type of high-profile superstar who can carry a Gold Medal club. A team-first concept and plenty of scraped elbows still managed to help Duncan's teams win a handful of hard-earned championships.
"I was always a team-oriented person and not into the individual superstar stuff," Duncan said. "My style of basketball was always to be real tough on defense and play as a unit, under control. That is what was successful for us."
The style was, indeed, successful for Duncan's teams, as they brought home championship trophies in 1985, and then three-peated from 1992-1994.
"What happened was that my teams realized that one guy was not going to win the game on his own, so we never had a player who had 45 points," Duncan said. "The guys we had averaged less than 20 points most of the time. We had guys who knew what to do with the ball, alright, but we kept teams out of step by playing under control and that is how we played good games. If we started to run and gun against teams like Angoon and Yakutat, we would have been second-best, for sure."
Instead of individual statistics, Duncan credits his successful coaching style as what enabled his teams to be victorious and, in turn, as what solidified his induction into the Hall of Fame.
PLAYING FOR PAST HEROES
Other Hall of Famers give their credit to someone who inspired them in a special way early in their lives. For 1988 inductee William "Billie" Bean, from Kake, the inspiration came from a former player and mentor, Paul Rudolfph, whose own election into the Hall of Fame came in 1980.
"Rudolph was a big strong guy and, a long time ago, when I was just a kid, Rudolph sat me on the end of the bench, even though I was too young to play, and made me a part of the team," Bean said. "That gave me the desire to be a part of the team and to be a part of Gold Medal."
As Bean grew up, leisure time between fishing seasons inspired team training sessions and other preparations for the upcoming Gold Medal tournament.
"Back then everyone was seasonal workers. In the off season, we would eat, drink, and sleep the game of basketball," Bean said. "Gold Medal was a really big deal before television. We would train back then and we would even travel to compete for spots in the tournament. It really was 'March Madness'."
Bean further elaborated about the significance of receiving an invitation to play in Gold Medal during those elimination games.
"One time we had to play Petersburg just to see who would go to Gold Medal," he added. "They came over to Kake for a weekend and we played to see who would win the best of three games. I do not know what would have happened to us if we had lost, but it was a really big deal back then. It still is when the villages play against each other."
Pat Kemp of Juneau was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 and credits Bean, himself, as his largest Gold Medal influence.
"I played with a great bunch of guys," Kemp said. "Players like Dick Leavitt, Mike and Steve Bavard, Jeff Miller, Greg Himpshem, Andy Pekovich, and others, but yeah, Billy Bean was kind of my hero, actually. Gosh, he was something! Heck of a ball player who could run all day long."
But, as always, the day came when Hall of Famers gave up their spot on the roster to some young rookie who would sit the bench for most of the game. The old timers were then left to get their kicks from watching a new generation to take over the court.
"Now one of my favorite things about Gold Medal was seeing my son play in the tournament," Kemp said. "I know that other Hall of Famers kids have played in Gold Medal too."
In fact, dozens of Hall of Famer's sons and daughters from all over Southeast Alaska have participated in past Gold Medals. Hall of Famer's like Klukwan's Robert "Jeff" David and Bill Tomkins, Hoonah's Johan Dybdahl, Angoon's Albert Kookesh, Juneau's Mike Bavard, and Kake's Ray Peterson, Billie Bean, and Archie Cavanaugh, Sr. have all watched their kids continue in the tradition of Gold Medal. Some of those players have even built resumes that will one day be looked at for future Hall of Fame considerations.
GRANDPA CAVANAUGH TAKES THE WHEEL
The road to the Hall of Fame spurred an ongoing legacy for Cavanaugh, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. Cavanaugh began playing in just the second Gold Medal back in 1948, and was selected into the Hall of Fame an amazing four decades later. Sixty-plus years later, the competitive edge is still there.
"I played for Mount Edgecumbe back then and we had a good team, but there were good teams from all over the state in them days," Cavanaugh said. "These days I still get so excited; sometimes I can't sleep just thinking about it."
Cavanaugh has taken over the coaching role for Kake in an on-and-off fashion since the 1970's. In 2009, he will again return to the bench as head coach of the Thunderbirds. This year's Gold Medal is very special to Cavanaugh because his son, Junior, is the manager and several of his grandchildren will be representing Kake out on the floor.
Whether it is to play hoops, see the competition, salute another hero, or to reacquaint long-standing friendships, the Hall of Fame is just another aspect of the family affair that is Gold Medal basketball in Southeast Alaska.