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Donny Peterson and Luke Miller remember well their trip to Hanford, Calif., for last year's inaugural Glacier Bowl.
The two played for the Juneau Youth Football League's junior division Broncos last fall. When Broncos coach Eddie Brakes made an Internet connection with the Hanford Youth Football League, both players made the trip. Now that the two leagues are connecting again this weekend, Peterson and Miller were excited about a second trip to California.
"They treated us like kings," Miller said. "We weren't expecting that."
"They gave us a police escort and they had a big crowd. They even had cheerleaders for us," Peterson said. "It was a lot of fun."
The JYFL sent two teams to California on Wednesday for this year's Glacier Bowl II tonight and Saturday. Instead of only sending the Broncos this year, the JYFL sent a junior division (age 11-12) and a senior division (age 13-14) team with players from several JYFL squads. To match the ages and lower weight limits used in Hanford, several of the JYFL senior team members are actually juniors.
"We're taking 20 players, 12 from the senior league and eight from the juniors," said Rich Sjoroos, who is coaching the JYFL seniors in Hanford this year after leading his JYFL Chargers to the Senior Super-Pro National Championship last year in a 100-team Las Vegas tournament. "It'll be tough not taking my regular team. But I've got Brian Felix, who was the Glacier Bowl MVP last year. I'll be riding his back a bit. We've got seven or eight players who went last year, like quarterback Jamen Hulegaard, and that'll help. They know what it's all about."
The JYFL juniors will play the Hanford Trojans at 5 p.m. (4 p.m. Alaska time) today at Kings Christian School in Lemoore, Calif. The JYFL seniors will play the Hanford Rams at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. Alaska time).
On Saturday, the JYFL juniors play the Hanford Bruins at 12:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m. Alaska time) and the JYFL seniors play the Hanford Redskins at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. Alaska time), with both games at the Hanford High School Neighbor Bowl field. Two Hanford pup league games will also be held Saturday. Both of the JYFL Saturday games will broadcast tape-delayed on KINY 800-AM, with the juniors at 2 p.m. and the seniors immediately following. Tonight's games will not be broadcast.
In last year's Glacier Bowl, the JYFL Broncos beat the previously undefeated Hanford Bruins 24-0 in a game that was closer than the final score. Juneau scored its first touchdown with 30 seconds left in the first half, then scored its final two touchdowns in the game's last three minutes. The Broncos also beat the Fresno NW Ravens 35-0 in an exhibition game two nights before the Glacier Bowl.
"The best part of last year was the winning," said Brian Maller, another of the JYFL juniors who went to California last year.
But the trip isn't just about football. Brakes said former HYFL president Mike Spicer, the current Hanford Bruins coach, has a full schedule planned for the two Juneau teams, who finally arrived in California early this morning after their plane was delayed by fog Wednesday.
"We're going to the Fresno State-Tulsa football game Saturday night, the Hanford league's bought tickets for us," said Brakes, who will coach the JYFL juniors. "They're taking us to Adventure Land (a water park in nearby Fresno) and the zoo, and we'll get to see a police dog demonstration. This isn't just about winning. I want the kids to have a good time."
When Brakes and Spicer hooked up over the Internet last year, Brakes and the Broncos did all their own fund-raising for the trip. This year, after hearing about the team's experience in Hanford, the whole JYFL pitched in with the fund-raising so the league could send two teams. Spicer also visited Alaska to watch some JYFL games.
With the composite teams, Brakes said he shifted some of his players to the senior team and picked up eight first-year players for his roster. Brakes said this should help Sjoroos' senior team since several of his players were too big to match up with Hanford's players.
"Me and Rich run the same offense, so he's got five of my players and nine of his," Brakes said. "Last year I just took the Broncos. This year I've got players from five teams."
The returning players expect this year's games to be tougher than last year, but they're still confident.
"It'll be tougher, but if we play hard and play defense we can win," Miller said.
"As long as we don't get lackadaisical we'll be OK," Maller said. "We have to play our hearts out."