For the past two years, local sports fans have been able to watch Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Carlos Boozer play basketball with the best in the world as a power forward for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Wednesday, another JDHS graduate reached the pinnacle of his sport when left-handed relief pitcher Chad Bentz made his major league debut for the Montreal Expos.
Bentz has only made the one appearance this season - two-thirds of an inning of one-hit scoreless relief against the Florida Marlins - but he's officially a major leaguer and nobody can ever take that away from him.
This isn't the first time Juneau's had an athlete compete on an international stage - does anyone remember former Olympic silver medalist and World Champion downhill skier Hilary Lindh? - but there's been something special about all of them.
The successful Juneau athletes have not been the punked out kids with bad attitudes. The successful Juneau athletes are good citizens and role models. These are the types of athletes we want representing our community at the top levels of their sports.
"I think they're very positive for the community as a whole," said JDHS boys basketball coach George Houston, who coached Boozer in high school and has been one of Bentz's strongest supporters. "Some people playing right now need to sit up and take note that you don't have to be a (jerk) to be good players. These guys are good role models."
"Anything you've heard about Chad's terrific attitude and determination is all true," said David Reaume, a current Seattle resident who coached both Bentz and Boozer when they played in the Gastineau Channel Little League. "Carlos worked hard. He was very quiet, not a mouthy guy at all."
When he pitched for the Class AA Harrisburg Senators last year, Bentz won two of the team's end-of-season awards. He won the fan club's choice as best pitcher, and he also won the Matt Rosen Community Service Award.
Because of his "birthmark" or deformed right hand, Bentz has always been popular with people who have similar handicaps. But last year, Bentz also went to local libraries to read to kids and he helped out with the Asthma Olympics. When he returned to Juneau, he ran baseball clinics for Little Leaguers and worked with local high school and college players.
"I didn't expect the award," Bentz said in a September interview. "If there wasn't an award I'd still be doing it. I want to be known for my ability on the field, but it's just as important to be a good citizen off it. Besides, kids are fun."
Last week, Boozer won the NBA Community Assist Award for the month of March and he was nominated for the Magic Johnson Award (given by the Professional Basketball Writers Association for accessibility to the media). He donated the $5,000 he won for the Community Assist Award to Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland.
"The award is nice, but I'm more proud that the ($5,000) will take care of a family," Boozer told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "There's so many people that are less fortunate and are in need, and to be able to help them makes me way more proud than receiving an award."
Boozer regularly makes trips to local schools in Cleveland to speak with students, is a member of the NBA's national and local Read-to-Achieve All-Star Reading Teams and he meets with community groups attending games. "When a Read-to-Achieve event comes up or the Cavaliers visit a hospital or high school, Boozer is the man for the job," Joe Gabriele wrote on the Cleveland Cavaliers' Web site last week.
Boozer also helps run basketball clinics when he's in Alaska and is working with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education's AlaskAdvantage program to increase the number of college-bound students from the state.
Both Houston and Reaume credit strong families with helping Boozer and Bentz get where they are today. Both athletes were lucky that their parents - Carlos Sr. and Renee Boozer and Rob and Mary Bentz - were a big factor in their development, as were their siblings.
Reaume said Bentz's older brother Josh could have been jealous of the spotlight always focusing on Chad. But Josh - who pitched and played first base for Grand Valley State in Michigan and played and coached a season of professional baseball in Australia - was always there for his brother.
Boozer's older sister, Natasha, attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., and was a frequent singer of the national anthem at Carlos' high school games. Boozer is trying to provide the same support for his younger brother, Charles, and younger sisters Nakeisha and Natanya, who now live in Raleigh, N.C.
When Bentz was younger, he wasn't that confident about his abilities because of the deformed hand, Reaume said. Reaume coached Bentz for three years - ages 10-12 - and the first year he tried to work the younger players in at third base and left field for preseason games. Bentz told him, "I can't play third, look at my hand."
Reaume said he told Bentz all he had to do was field the ball, "change his glove and throw the guy out," which is what Bentz did when a batter hit a slow roller to him at third. Two years later, Reaume needed a catcher and Bentz was the first to volunteer for the job.
"Chad was absolutely the best catcher in the league that year," said Reaume, who claims to have the first Chad Bentz autographed baseball, one Bentz signed when he was 13 years old. "It was an interesting flip-flop from two years earlier, when it was 'I can't do that because of my hand' to 'I can catch.'"
Another reason Bentz and Boozer are the way they are is because it takes a stronger commitment to play for a Juneau sports team than it does in other places in the country. Juneau athletes don't just show up for games. With Juneau's remote location off the road system, the teams all have to raise large amounts of money for travel expenses and the players wind up housing their opponents after the games are over.
"I think that gives them an idea about what goes on in running an event; not everything is handed to you," Houston said. "It's a good life lesson. It's something they learn and see. It makes them understand and appreciate what they have."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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