ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Two days of travel.
A distance of 5,000 miles.
Layovers in three airports, followed by a six-hour bus ride.
From the northern tip of Alaska to the deep south of Florida - a temperature difference of roughly 40 degrees.
The Barrow High football team traveled a great distance to be a part of Bartram Trail High School's spring practice.
After spending the last few days in North Florida, the boys from north of the Arctic Circle have one sentiment about their long journey - it was worth it.
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"The trip was tiring and I was glad when it was over," Barrow sophomore quarterback Albert Gerke said. "I flew from Barrow to Anchorage to Seattle to Houston to Atlanta and then took a bus to Jacksonville. It feels great to be here. I've really enjoyed our first few days here. I can't wait for the other things we're scheduled to do."
Added Barrow junior wide receiver Justin Sanders: "I've never left Alaska and it's awesome here. It's hot, but I can take it. I'm looking forward to going to the beach, because I've never been to a big beach like they have here."
The temperature mid-afternoon Monday at the beach was 77, not hot by Florida standards. At the same time, the temperature in Barrow was 36 degrees.
Bartram Trail High School in St. Augustine is leading an effort to raise money for Barrow's team, which played its first year of football last season. With Barrow's frigid conditions and frozen tundra, the Whalers play on a gravel field.
Cathy Parker, the wife of Bartram offensive coordinator Carl Parker and mother of Bartram quarterback and Clemson commitment Kyle Parker, saw a feature about the team on ESPN. She has spearheaded an effort to raise money to build Barrow an artificial turf field. The plan, announced on March 1, has been a success generating an estimated $380,000 of the $500,000 goal.
"For a group of people 5,000 miles away to take an interest in what you're doing really touches your heart," Barrow head coach Mark Voss said. "We're really appreciative of every effort Bartram and this community has made for us.
"Our kids are 16 and 17 years old. They don't know how blessed they are. They'll realize it one day how special all of this is."
The team arrived early this past weekend and has enjoyed its first few days of working out with the Bartram football team and taking in some of the local sights.
On Monday, Barrow watched Bartram's morning practice before the two squads headed off to Mickler's Beach in Ponte Vedra, followed by a Barrow practice at night. On Tuesday, the teams were scheduled to visit the Alligator Farm and the Fountain of Youth, both in St. Augustine.
Barrow will be in town until Friday and will attend Bartram's spring game on Thursday when Bartram hosts a team from neighboring Clay County. The players are staying with local host families.
"This has worked out better than we had imagined," Cathy Parker said. "Our boys and their boys have gotten along so well together that we can't tell who's who. We have 22 host homes and everyone has been astounded by how well the boys have connected.
"They have really won the hearts of our community. They are so polite and appreciative."
So far, one of the highlights for the Barrow players has been Bartram's high-quality facilities, including its grass fields.
"It's great getting to play on the fields here," Barrow junior defensive end Luke George said. "Our field is dirt and gravel. This isn't as slippery and when you fall down it's a piece of cake on the grass."
Bartram's players have embraced their gridiron brethren and been impressed by what they've seen out of the squad.
"It's fun working with them," said Bartram standout cornerback Xavier Brewer, who has scholarship offers from Florida, Notre Dame and Southern California.
"They've been real cool and we've developed a good chemistry with them. We're teaching them things and it's helping our team having them here."
Carl Smith, the offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, attended Bartram's practice on Monday. Smith, who has 19 years of NFL coaching experience, came away impressed with the way the two teams have worked together.
"It's great seeing the Bartram kids reach out to these guys who are almost from another country and finding out how much similarities they have," Smith said. "These kids from Barrow have a lot of personality. They're having fun and being exposed to a lot of stuff. It's a good experience for both teams."
Both coaching staffs have been pleased with what they've seen from their counterparts.
"Barrow has the potential to be good," Bartram Trail coach Darrell Sutherland said. "They have some good athletes and I like their work ethic already. They're on the right track."
While being a tremendous help to Barrow off the field, Bartram has also set a good example on the field. The Bears have won back-to-back District 2-5A state championships and are primed for another huge season in the fall.
"I'm glad they're not on our schedule next year," Barrow Coach Voss said. "This community has to be as proud of this team as it could ever be. This is a fantastic organization, and we've been super impressed."
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