The Gold Medal experience ends for most players and fans with each year's final tip of the hat or slap on the back. At least, that is what they think.
Since 1969, though, many of the crumpled dollars saved and borrowed by Southeast basketball fans and players for a week's worth of drama and excitement in Juneau have found their way back to those who need them. That is when the Juneau Lions Club began giving back funds raised from Gold Medal to local communities in the form of college scholarships.
One scholarship, which is worth roughly $500, is awarded to each community that fields a Gold Medal team. Up until three years ago, those scholarships were awarded to anybody selected by the community.
"Over time, that system wasn't working too well," JLC president Ted Burke said. "The communications just didnt' jive as well as we had hoped."
These days, the educators can make the call. The JLC simply sends letters to each represented school, notifying them that they have the scholarship. A returned form with a recipient's name and future school is all that is needed.
"This process is much more efficient," Burke said. "Now schools are selecting the individuals best suited for this kind of scholarship."
If one of the tournament's 99 current Hall of Fame members lives in the recipient's community, they award the scholarships to the respective students in a year-ending ceremony. The participation of Hall of Famers also helps to keep Gold Medal in the eyes and minds of the public while keeping those special playes involved in the tournament, according to Burke.
With such a lengthy tradition of helping Southeast students pick up a college education, the Lions has already seen many recipients paying back their scholarships many times over with work in local communities.
FROM STUDENT TO TEACHER
For former Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball coach George Houston, the Lions Club's money was paid back one state title and foot-stomping tirade at at a time. The Juneau native was one of the scholarships' initial recipients back in '69, receiving $500 towards his first year's tuition at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
"I don't even remember filling anything out. I'm not sure how I ended up getting that scholarship," Houston said. "I guess that was probably a third of my tuition back then. Five hundred bucks was quite the chunk of change in 1970."
That money helped Houston continue his basketball career with three seasons on the UAF team. The game took a backseat to his education while in Fairbanks, though, and he left the program during his senior year to feed a passion that he shared with hundreds of Juneau teenagers up until 2006.
"My old coach moved up to Lathrop so I was helping him out with the team," Houston said. "I had no idea I was going to graduate and then get a teaching job down here and start coaching. The way it worked out, that scholarship was certainly beneficial."
Houston would eventually serve as a coach at JDHS for 32 years, serving as an assistant to Jim Hamey for 19 seasons before taking the reins for the 1992-1993 schedule. His 13-year tenure as head coach yielded 278 wins, 10 conference championships and a pair of state titles.
The hometown kid also paid back some of that scholarship money one entry fee at a time as he won "a number of tournaments" with a Juneau team that bounced between the old AA and A brackets.
"Back then I was still playing with the group of guys I grew up with," he said. "I played with pretty good players like the Bavards and Pat Kemp so we ended up winning quite a few games."
At 57, Houston no longer torments Southeast opponents on the Gold Medal court or 4A opponents on the Crimson Bears' sideline. The game still holds a special place for the old ball coach, though, and he credits the Lions' Clubs' scholarships for helping numerous other Southeast students throughout the years.
"I really appreciated the scholarship and the opportunity it gave me," Houston said. "It's a fitting way for the Lions Club to give back and a good opportunity for young people to get help with college expenses. It's just a good program for everybody in Southeast."
FROM PULLING DOWN BOARDS TO PULLING TEETH
A more recent scholarship recipient, Petersburg and Kake native Lonnie Anderson, has more than paid back his scholarship with one straight, white Southeast smile at a time.
Anderson's $500 scholarship in 1984 helped him start down an education trail that carried him to Eastern Oregon for two years, then over to Oregon State and, finally, to the University of Washington's School of Dentistry. The Lions Club money represented just a drop in the bucket that goes into a dentist's education, but Anderson credits the gift for saving later headaches.
"I just had to fill out a form and every little bit helps," Anderson said. "Somewhere along the line, that's a little less stress out of your life. It's probably one less bill you have to worry about."
Anderson was born in Petersburg but attended high school and played basketball for Kake. Then, when he opened up his current practice in Juneau after graduation, his Gold Medal allegiance was officially split three ways. Yet, he has managed to keep a home team in each community, winning a pair of A division titles with Juneau, making a B division title game with Kake and playing with Petersburg for one tournament.
"I think my most productive years were spent going to college," Anderson said. "My heart's always been with Kake, but sometimes circumstances take me away from that community and force me to play with other teams. No matter what team you play for, Gold Medal's just a great time to see all of those friends and foes."
While Anderson said his scholarship ended up being just "an extra little boost" that helped him through his learning years, he knows how much the same amount of money can mean to other Southeast students.
"(The scholarships) are certainly an excellent idea," he added. "That money gets back to all of those surrounding communities and gives those kids that extra little boost they need."
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.