As the Juneau-Douglas High School football team geared up for last month's state playoffs, the Crimson Bears faced the distraction of not knowing what conference they'd be in for the 2004 season - if any.
Some of the coaches and officials with the sponsoring Juneau Youth Football League felt Juneau's move from the Cook Inlet Football Conference (Anchorage/Juneau) to the Northern Railbelt Conference (Fairbanks/Mat-Su valleys) was a "done deal."
With the new South Anchorage High School coming on line next year, and an opening in the Northern Railbelt because Eielson dropped to the small schools division last year, they thought the Crimson Bears would be forced to move.
Last week, though, the Crimson Bears found out their future. Juneau will remain in the CIFC with the same basic travel agreement it's had the last six years, where the Crimson Bears fund the travel of opposing teams to Juneau. The agreement was reached during a Nov. 11 meeting in Anchorage between CIFC officials, Juneau football coach Reilly Richey, JDHS athletic director Sandi Wagner and JYFL president Karen Lawfer.
"The good news is we're staying in the Cook Inlet," Richey said. "The Northern Railbelt didn't want us because of the extra cost, and we didn't want to go back to being an independent. We're happy to stay where we are."
Richey said there are two proposals that will be forwarded to the Alaska School Activities Association that may help Juneau stay in the bigger eight-team conference.
The first is a proposal to increase the regular-season schedule from eight games to nine. Richey said this proposal won unanimous approval from the state's football coaches association, but needs ASAA approval before it can be implemented. One benefit of a nine-game schedule is CIFC teams will still be able to play two non-conference games, even as their CIFC schedule goes from six to seven games.
Alaska's eight-game season is the shortest in the country, which is another reason coaches want the change, Richey said. When Alaska teams tried to arrange games with teams from the Lower 48, the short schedule was creating a problem. Many Lower 48 states now use power rankings to seed their state playoffs, and the Lower 48 teams said their rankings were hurt because the computers won't give them credit when they play teams with fewer than nine games on their schedules.
"The only problem with the longer schedule is it adds an extra week of overlap with the wrestling season," Richey said.
The other proposal, which would go into effect if ASAA doesn't approve the nine-game schedule, is to split the CIFC into two four-team divisions. The tentative breakdown would put Juneau, Bartlett, Chugiak and East Anchorage in a North Division, while Service, Dimond, South and West Anchorage compete in a South Division. Teams would play the other three members of their division each year and three of the four teams in the other division on a rotating basis, Richey said.
Returning Crimson Bears say they are happy to stay with the CIFC. The CIFC is the state's toughest conference, and all but two state (or state invitational) titles since 1983 have been won by non-CIFC teams. Juneau players like facing tough CIFC teams each week, especially since there's a big difference in talent between the Northern Railbelt schools.
"We wanted to stay with the big schools," junior lineman Alika Bradley said. "Next year will be a good year for us."
"It's fine with me," junior lineman Jake Ritter said about staying in the CIFC. "We were going to compete the same, no matter what conference we ended up in. We should be at the same level next year, if not better. We're happy to have the more consistent competition (of the CIFC)."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS FOOTBALL TEAM
The end-of-season awards for the Juneau-Douglas High School football team, which were presented during the team's annual banquet on Nov. 14.
Hall of Fame inductees - C.J. Keys, senior wide receiver/defensive back/special teams; Ryan West, senior linebacker/fullback; Toni Talamai, senior defensive tackle/running back/special teams.
Offensive player of the year - Brian Felix, junior running back.
Defensive player of the year - Ryan West, senior linebacker.
Special teams player of the year - Richard Isett, senior kicker.
Offensive lineman of the year - Jimmy Brown, senior offensive tackle.
Defensive lineman of the year - Toni Talamai, senior defensive tackle.
Most inspirational player - Nick West, senior linebacker/fullback.
Most improved player - Mark Shilling, senior quarterback.
Academic award - Ed Mertz, senior defensive back/special teams.
JUNIOR VARSITY AWARDS
Offensive player of the year - Chris Hinkley, freshman quarterback.
Defensive player of the year - Lane Miller, sophomore linebacker.
Offensive lineman of the year - Joe Monagle, sophomore offensive tackle.
Defensive lineman of the year - Will Tonsgard, sophomore defensive tackle.
Most inspirational player - Lane Miller, sophomore running back/linebacker.
Most improved player - Josh Fairless, sophomore defensive back/wide receiver.