From Hoonah to Juneau, and now to state

Posted: Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Apparently, Juneau-Douglas wrestling coach John Smith isn't the only Hoonah transplant in the Crimson Bears' program.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Senior grappler Henry Dalton moved from wrestling-crazy Hoonah after his freshman year, and three seasons later he's on his way to Wasilla to challenge the best in Alaska.

But this will be a new experience for the 189-pound grappler, who will be wrestling at the state tournament for the first time.

"I went to regions expecting first and I got it," he said. "My goal was to take first at regions so I could go to state for once my senior year."

And here he is, goal accomplished and waiting to see what lies in wait at the next level of competition. Dalton did not place at the Region V tournament last year, so the feeling of winning the lone Southeast Conference berth at 189 pounds was one of his favorite moments at Juneau-Douglas.

"The spotlight match at regionals - my very first finals match, my very first spotlight match and it was at the regional tournament my senior year," he said smiling. "Taking first was great.

"I decided to really push myself hard this year, and now I'm going to state."

With the Bears trying to rebuild their wrestling program into what it used to be, Dalton said the team is in good hands going forward with Smith as coach. But he also said when you wrestle in Hoonah there's a significant amount of pressure on you to perform, something that wasn't felt immediately upon his arrival at JDHS.

"The school was a big difference with all the people, but when I came in the wrestling room the team was about the same size as the one in Hoonah," Dalton said. "But we didn't get pushed as hard last year as I did in Hoonah.

"(Hoonah is) a small town and they expect a lot out of you," he continued. "There's still a lot of focus here, but in Hoonah there's a lot of pressure. Everyone knows everyone and you're expected to do great."

And Dalton said his relationship with Smith goes back a long way. During his Dalton's elementary school years in Hoonah, Smith was the coach of a local wrestling team called the Hoonah Huskies. Dalton said it was his coaches that kept him on the mat pursuing the sport even when he wasn't sure he wanted to wrestle.

Dalton lives with his grandparents Ernie and Lillian Hillman in Juneau, while his parents Richard and Veronica Dalton still reside in Hoonah. But he said his relationship with all his family members is strong, so being away from his parents isn't a big deal.

"I'm really close to my grandparents," he said. "There really wasn't much to do in Hoonah during the summer, so I'd get sent over here and fish with my uncles."

While fishing and hunting are two things he has enjoyed doing while spending time with his family, Dalton said he's not the only one in his family who enjoys wrestling.

"My mom's brothers wrestled in their high schools, and my brother wrestled, too," he said. "When I was younger he always pushed me and I didn't really have interest. Then I saw him wrestle and how much stronger he got."

So Dalton said he gave it a try, but he needed a little help from his friend, Kole Skaflestad, who graduated from Hoonah High School last year.

"I was hanging out with him one day and he said wrestling practice was starting and I should stop by," Dalton said. "He gave me a pair of his shoes, I got a pair of trunks and just went in. I've been wrestling ever since."

But outside of wrestling, fishing and hunting, Dalton's other hobby translates to something he hopes to pursue academically, and possibly as a career. He said he's always been good with his hands, especially mechanically, and he hopes to enroll in a mechanical school program in Laramie, Wyo., with a focus in auto and diesel mechanics. But the possibility of learning the trade wasn't recognized until he became a student at JDHS.

"In Hoonah, you either taught yourself about mechanics or you didn't learn," he said. "My aunt took me to the school to register, and she said, 'You're always working with your hands, so you should try taking auto.' So I took it and I was the youngest one in the class, and I'm sticking with it."

But there's still time before the class of 2011 graduates in the spring, and Dalton said he has one focus: the state wrestling tournament.

"Everyone should have the expectation to do great, which I do," he said. "I'm definitely expecting to perform well and get some wins."

That's a good thing for someone who faced the near possibility of not wrestling when he moved to Juneau for his sophomore year. Dalton said, at that point, his grandparents were not wild about the idea of their grandchild taking part in such a physical sport.

But even Dalton knew, hey, that's what grandparents are for.

"They didn't really like me wrestling because they thought it was a pretty tough sport," he said. "But I told them it's worth it to keep me occupied and keep me out of trouble. That way you also stay focused in school."

Now Dalton and his opponents will see if his wrestling skills are as sound as his logic.

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