Kicking off new traditions

At TMHS's inaugural home game, controversy over second high school takes back seat

Posted: Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Friday night the clouds parted and the rain ceased long enough for 600 people to witness Thunder Mountain High School's first home football game.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Under the bright stadium lights, two teams of eager youths trotted out onto a $3.5 million field to battle each other for four quarters, and the politics of a school district with two high schools took a back seat.

Before TMHS opened in 2008, critics had concerns about whether Juneau could afford two high schools. Strong feelings on both sides split the community. A citizens group formed to oppose the new high school. After two attempts, voters accepted a smaller, less costly high school, but the controversy continued about whether Juneau could pay for two sports programs.

"I was one of those parents wondering what was going to happen - how sports were going to happen," said parent Tim Grussendorf. "I've been helping to coach out at Floyd Dryden (Middle School) for a long time. I wasn't sure that we could support two schools."

He wanted his son, Cody, to keep playing basketball for JDHS, but his son chose Thunder Mountain. He'd played basketball for three years as a Crimson Bear, but will spend his senior year a Falcon.

"He made the decision based on the school and it had nothing to do with sports," his father said. The high school is directly behind the family's home.

Cody Grussendorf never went out for football at JDHS. Friday was his first football game, and his basketball athleticism was transferring to the gridiron. He caught two touchdown passes and had 85 total yards receiving. His father cheered him on from the sidelines - his doubts about Juneau supporting two athletic programs were gone.

"I see now that it can happen. I know coach (Bill) Byouer has worked hard to make this happen and I'm sure all the other sports will. The community has really stepped up. They are supporting both teams. Evidently we can support two teams. I think in a few years you will see both teams will be very competitive," Grussendorf said, as he watched Cody convert an extra point by catching a pass in the end zone.

Football parent Carl Mielke helped repair the donated concession stand. His wife, Mari, is vice president of the Peregrine's Booster Club; she spent the entire night selling hotdogs and sweatshirts.

"It's a big thing for our whole family because we are all involved in the football scene with Thunder Mountain High School. We've put in a lot of effort," Carl Mielke said.

His family was typical of the football-loving families watching the game that night. Mothers, fathers, football players, cheerleaders and coaches had worked the fundraisers to make this night happen.

The quarterback's mother and booster club president Becky Thomas was selling tickets at the gate and working the concession stand. "I'm on the booster club because my son Camden Thomas is the quarterback of the team. He's been playing football since he was 6 years old and he loves it. He talked me into taking on this club."

So many people on the sidelines were connected to this game. It wasn't just parents and players, but also volunteer youth coaches like Russ Stevens, who showed up to watch his former players from the Juneau Youth Football League. Stevens had helped teach the game to some of the Falcon players on the field.

Youth Pastor John-Michael Gwinnell had painted his head blue to show his support for the team. He had worked with running back Jesse Conrad during summer camps at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He watched from the sidelines as Conrad scored the first touchdown of the night on a 20-yard run from scrimmage.

The Falcons made school history Friday, defending their home field with a 26-8 victory over Sitka. It may be a new rivalry in the making. At the end of the game, the players huddled in the end zone and chanted a victory cheer.

"Who are we? Falcons! Who are we? Falcons! Whose house? Our house! Whose house? Our house! 1-2-3 Falcons!"

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