SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - In Southeast Alaska, where nearby towns are often separated by water, high school basketball fans often go to great lengths to travel a short distance.
Each year, for example, when the Ketchikan High School boys basketball team hosts rival Metlakatla, visiting fans make the 20-mile trip by ferry, float planes and small fishing boats.
The annual scene makes it appear as if Metlakatla (pop. 1,375) is launching a surprise attack on its neighbor, which, in a way, it is.
"It's rock and roll in the gym on those nights," Ketchikan coach Doug Nausid said. "Usually their whole town comes over to see the game."
In a state where the weather can be downright cruel, it's hardly surprising that Alaska's favorite sport is played indoors.
Away from the sub-zero temperatures or incessant rain - Ketchikan averages 160 inches a year - basketball helps entertain communities while they wait to thaw out.
As for the players in a state that has sent just two to the NBA, it's safe to say they are if not the most talented, certainly among the most eager.
Just consider the kids from Ketchikan, who are in San Luis Obispo this week to play at the 22-team Mission Prep Christmas Classic.
This week's 1,500-mile trip from Ketchikan to San Luis Obispo will be its longest of the season. But the hardest trip? This one's not even close.
Located on the western coast of Revillagigedo Island, near the southernmost boundary of Alaska, Ketchikan is closer to Seattle than Anchorage. As a result, the King Salmon might spend more time traveling than the Sacramento Kings.
There is a 26-hour ferry ride to play Juneau. And a seemingly routine 75-mile trip to play Craig High School requires a 3 1/2-hour ferry ride followed by one-hour drive to the school.
Ketchikan often skips the ferry and flies to its games on Alaska Airlines.
Not surprisingly, the boys basketball program must raise $30,000 annually to pay for travel expenses, with $10,000 devoted to a 1,500-mile round-trip flight to Anchorage.
Nausid estimates the state athletic association, which pays for travel to conference games, pitches in an extra $25,000, meaning Ketchikan High requires close to $110,000 in travel expenses for its boys and girls basketball programs.
To help raise money, Ketchikan recently hosted a prime rib dinner - complete with a band, complimentary drinks and an auction - at a restaurant owned by one of the players' dads. The program netted $8,000.
"The days of bake sales are over," Nausid said. "We don't need $50. It's more like $50,000."
And in Alaska, where the games can provide a glow on frozen nights, it's money well spent.
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