Maybe it's the sweet left-handed shot, or possibly the charismatic aura that surrounds him, but whatever it is, there may not be another person who epitomizes the Lions Club's Gold Medal Tournament more than Klawock's Dewey Skan Jr.
Born in Ketchikan and raised in Klawock, Skan has been a mainstay of the Gold Medal tournament for nearly a half century. He's been a member of numerous Gold Medal championship teams, including five Division A championships. He has played for Kake ANB as well as for his hometown team, Klawock. Skan has won a tournament MVP award, and in 1989 was named to the Gold Medal Hall of Fame, which also holds the names of his brothers Ray and Norman.
In 1999, he was named by Sports Illustrated as one of Alaska's 50 Greatest Athletes. The article referred to him as "Star player for - and then coach of - the Klawock Totems in statewide amateur Gold Medal basketball tournaments."
He's a commercial fisherman by trade and has been a legislative aide to state representative Albert Kookesh, who is also a Gold Medal veteran, since 1996. He has served four terms as city councilman for the City of Klawock, three terms as ANB president, and numerous boards, committees, and councils on both native and non-native issues.
Now, at a time of life when most are "taking it easy," Skan continues to be a part of Gold Medal as player-coach of the defending C Division champion Klawock Old Totems. Even though his playing time has diminished significantly, he still suits up in the event that his team may need him in a pinch. You can say he's the Eveready Energizer Bunny of the Southeast Alaska basketball - he just keeps going and going.
As he prepared for his 45th Gold Medal - this is the 58th Gold Medal Tournament - Skan agreed to a question and answer session.
The questions reach into Skan's personal life to find out in his own words what Gold Medal means to one of the tournament's greatest competitors. The answers came easy to a humble man who gives others as much, if not more, credit for his success then himself.
Opening statement: "The first thing I would like to do is thank the Kake ANB basketball team and the people of Kake that afforded me to first be involved in Gold Medal. It's become a life-long affair and I've always wanted to thank them for the opportunity."
Question: How long do you plan on playing in the Gold Medal tournament?
Answer: "It's mostly about staying healthy the last few years. I stay in shape because the boys might need me the last couple years, because we just suit up with core seven players - Al Nix, Sam Peters, John Garvey, Sid Edenshaw, Mark Heard, my brother Norman (Skan), and myself."
Q: How do you explain your longevity in playing basketball?
A: "It's a matter of having the desire to excel in the game and excel to win. Conditioning has always been a big part of our basketball life."
Q: What or who got you started in basketball?
A: "Growing up in Klawock I had an uncle named Jim Rowan. He was a pretty good basketball player at the time. Mostly all of my cousins wanted to be like him - we would played dawn to dusk."
Q: Everybody has a hero or an inspiration in what they love to do. What or who is your inspiration in basketball?
A: "I understood our dad, Dewey Sr., played basketball for the Wrangell Institute, a boarding school based out of Wrangell. My brothers and I never got to see him play because he started to have a family and quit playing before we realized what was happening. He's my hero and I'm sorry I never got to see him play basketball."
Q: What is your most memorable moment of playing Gold Medal?
A: "The first of many championships with Kake ANB in 1966 - the first-ever for the community. Harold Rose was the manager and was a big part of the team for years. He passed away a few years ago and is missed by the community. He made sure we had uniforms, was responsible for finances and represented the community to the best of his ability."
Q: Who were/are the players you enjoyed playing with the most and why?
A: "My brother Ray (Skan), Ray Peterson and Billy Bean. We won a few championships with Kake. They were excellent players. They played tough defense, they scored and were always in shape. They really knew the game."
Q: Who was your toughest opponent?
A: "As a coach, Hoonah. We've had a lot of battles with them in the B Division. As a player, Bill Hutton (Gold Medal Hall-of-Famer.) He could shoot, rebound and was tall and could run. He was a very tough match-up for us."
Q: If you could pick five players that you've played over the years to create an all-time Gold Medal team, who would those players?
A: "Greg Stigen, who was inducted into the Gold Medal Hall-of-Fame last year and was a long-time Klawock guy; Jerry Scudero and Sid Edenshaw for the front line. Norman Skan and John Ellis for the guards. For my sixth man, I would pick Ed Willburn. He was a great 3-point shooter."
Q: Basketball obviously is important to you. In your words, what does basketball mean to you?
A: What I really like about basketball is once the game is over, my close friends don't talk about basketball hardly. We just talk about things that are happening today that affect our people, and we try to find a way to remedy it. So, to me, basketball has afforded me an opportunity to make friends all over the state and I really appreciate that."
Q: How do you prepare for the Gold Medal tournament?
A: "When I was home with the B Division teams, we would have a month and a half of hard workouts before the tournament - it was a rigorous schedule for the guys. It takes about that long to get in good basketball shape. Now, I'm confident everyone keeps in shape on their own."
Q: What are the major changes you've seen over the years in the Gold Medal tournament?
A: "In 1962, the tournament went to an "A" and "AA" format. It was a good move and created good competition. They had good sensible rules at that time. Also, back in 1981, they tried the C Division (Old-Timers) on a trial basis. I really pushed for that division to continue."
Q: What is your favorite aspect about the Gold Medal tournament?
A: "Sitting at the games with a bunch of buddies watching different teams play. I look forward to the day when that's all I have to do."
Q: How important is the Alaska Native culture to the Gold Medal tournament?
A: "The significance of our people being involved in Gold Medal tournament is crucial because it brings in fresh money from the villages. It also allows us to sometimes visit with friends and family for the week. I see that as a positive thing."
Q: You are obviously a crowd favorite in the tournament. What makes you so popular with the fans?
A: "When I was very young, one of my dad's first cousins, Thomas Peratrovich, told me to always be good to people because people treat you how you treat them. That's how I live my life."
Q: What does it mean, in terms of community pride, to win a bracket in the Gold Medal Tournament?
A: "Klawock teams have been participating in Gold Medal for 27 years. Whenever they play, the community is proud of our efforts, win or lose."
Q: In 1999, Sports Illustrated listed you as one of the 50 Greatest Alaskan Sports Figures. What was your reaction to this?
A: "I was kind of surprised and a lot of people were happy for me. I got a lot of phone calls and lot of people sent me the book." (Sports Illustrated released a hardbound special edition for each state to commemorate the 20th century in sports.)
Q: Have you had any other basketball experience outside of the Klawock Totems? When and where?
A: "I played in Seattle for a couple years in 1971-72. We were an amateur team of Alaskans call "The Alaskan Nuggets." It was good experience and we played 57 games in all."
Q: Any predictions for this year's tournament?
A: "To us, it's always up for grabs. By Thursday, we'll know who can win the bracket, but until then, it's all up for grabs."
Q: What do you foresee the future holds for the Gold Medal tournament and Dewey Skan?
A: "I appreciate all the hard work the Lions Club has done to sponsor the Gold Medal Tournament. I've been told, from time-to-time, that there's a move on to break up our Old Totem basketball team from Klawock. I hope that is not true, as I would like the core players that I mentioned earlier to be able to defend the C Division championship. As for me, I look forward to the day when I'm able to sit in the stands and enjoy the tournament as I have for years."
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