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The birth of a true Crimson Bears fan

Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My first memory of attending a Juneau-Douglas High School basketball game was sitting in the balcony and watching the starting five for the Crimson Bears introduced. All the lights were turned off and the players ran to center court and into the spotlight as the fans cheered wildly. I joined in the cheering as loud as I could and kicked the bleachers to make more noise as the announcer introduced the players.

The team members were Bill Lockhart, Terry Miller, Tom Choquette, Leo Rosenberger, Mike Holloway, George Houston, Eric Olson, Tom Daugherty, Mark Wadell that season. To my eight-year-old eyes they were not high school boys playing a game but more like mighty warriors performing heroic deeds of glory as they won that state championship 40 years ago. That was the team that overthrew the Ketchikan Kings. "KayHi" held a tyrannical reign of power in Alaska high school basketball in the 1960s, winning four consecutive All Alaska State Championships behind their basketball legend John Brown.

Most of the game details from that year have faded for me. I can remember the spectacle, but not too many details. I remember going to every game with my brother Daryl and trudging home through the snow over the Douglas Bridge after another Juneau win and dreaming of the day when I might be on the team and winning glory when my time came.

Game days were big events for me. I remember going to the games with my brother Daryl long before the Junior Varsity games started so we would get our fill of basketball. When the team was playing out of town, we would sit around the radio and listen to the play-by-play broadcast on KINY radio.

The team lost only two games that year on their quest for the state title. There was a loss to the city league team The Arctic Knights and a very controversial game in Wrangell. I was so nervous listening to Juneau battle Sitka in the Southeast Region title game. They eventually won 60-56 for the right to play for the state title against the Lathrop Malemutes from Fairbanks.

Juneau beat Lathrop in the first game of the three-game series for the All Alaska High School State Championship series 77-65. I was in the Lathrop gym the summer before as a refugee from the great Fairbanks flood of 1967. I wondered at the time if the floodwaters were all gone.

I sat on the floor in front of my brother Daryl's radio as the whole family gathered to listen to the second game of that state championship series. I held my dog Jonico and my cat Pepsi for moral support. Juneau was behind most of the game. They fell behind 10 points in the third quarter and eight points with six minutes left in the game. Then, Juneau made their move and clawed their way back to tie the game at 59. With just eight seconds left in the game, Juneau got the ball back trailing 65-63 and had to go the length of the floor to tie the game before regulation time expired.

That set up one of the many plays that have gone down into Crimson Bear lore. Juneau head coach Clair Markey called a timeout and drew up the play. Bill Lockhart threw the ball inbounds to George Houston.

"I took two or three dribbles and then passed to Terry Miller who slashed from the baseline to the high post," Houston said.

Miller then slipped a pass to Lockhart, who was flying down the right lane with full afterburners. Lockhart scored with a left handed layup on the right side of the basket with just three seconds left in the game to put it into overtime.

I recall asking my dad, "what's overtime?," after everybody stopped cheering for Lockhart's basket.

The Crimson Bears took control in overtime and won the state championship 78-71.

"We got in front and we spread it out and hit our free throws and won," said Houston, who was eventually involved with the JDHS basketball program for 36 years as a player, junior varsity coach and varsity coach before retiring in 2006.

I jumped for joy and ran around the house after Juneau won until my mom told me to calm down. A true Crimson Bear fan was born that night.

This year, the team is again on a quest for a state title. They play Bartlett High School Thursday in the first round of the 4A State Basketball Tournament in Anchorage. I hope they go far. But I know one thing for sure; somewhere in Juneau, a young boy dreams of the day he can shoot a three-point shot to win a game at the final buzzer like Sean Bavard. Some kid in the valley dreams of the day he will play as smooth as Cody Grussendorf. A grade school kid in Douglas can't wait to be big and strong and fast as Alex Fagerstrom, and another wants to be tall with the inside moves of Eric Gross. And someday, perhaps 40 years from now, they will recall one of the greatest games by their beloved high school team.

•Email Juneau Empire photographer andresident superfan Brian Wallace at photography@juneauempire.com.



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