Fledgling Falcons will soar one day

TMHS girls basketball team reminiscent of 1980 Haines squad

Posted: Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears and Thunder Mountain Falcons faced each other in girls high school basketball last weekend. It was the first time Juneau had faced a crosstown rival since the 1950s - the days of the Douglas High School Huskies.

As expected, the mighty Crimson Bears had little trouble dispatching the fledgling Falcons.

It reminded me of another JDHS prep basketball series that took place the first weekend of January in 1980. That season's Haines girls basketball team could set an example for the Thunder Mountain Falcons to follow.

The Haines Glacier Bears girls basketball team was in its first year when it came to face the Crimson Bears. The games were about as one-sided as they could get. Host Juneau won the first game 94-2, and then the second 71-8.

That first game could have easily been 120-2, had Juneau chosen to press the whole game. In an understatement, then-Juneau-Douglas coach Russ McDowell said in a Juneau Empire story, "They just caught us with everybody back healthy and ready to play after the long holidays."

I took photos of the games for the Juneau-Douglas High School newspaper and yearbook. The few fans on hand for Friday's game were at first amused at the ease of the demolition of Haines, but by the fourth quarter the fans were standing and cheering for Haines to score a basket.

Time and again, the Haines players threw themselves at the Juneau players only to be swatted away by Crimson Bear players, including Signee Geariety and Melanie Asche.

Then, at last, with the score close to 90-0, a player for Haines got free on the baseline and launched a beautiful, arching rainbow shot that swished through the basket, giving Haines its only two points of the night.

The joy of that basket can't be measured. I remember the fans celebrating and high-fiving in the stands. They watched as the Haines bench also jumped for joy. Never before had such a meaningless 2-point shot - made when the game's outcome was already decided - brought so much joy to basketball fans.

And what happened to that Haines girls basketball team? Instead of sulking away, the Glacier Bears learned to play the game. Players learned to box out, set screens, take hard charges, pass effectively and all the other basic fundamentals of the game.

Those hapless Glacier Bears from the 1979-80 season set the stage for future classes. In 1985, the Haines Glacier Bears and the Wrangell Wolves went to war in the state 3A finals, now considered one of the greatest Alaska girls basketball championship games ever. After a triple-overtime battle, the Glacier Bears took home the championship with a 51-49 win over the Wolves.

I have to admit, I was not happy at the thought of Juneau having two high schools, mainly because of the dilution of the talent pool for Crimson Bear basketball teams. But now I see the Crimson Bears are still fearsome. One day, with guidance from head coach Tanya Nizich, the newborn Falcons will lose their downy feathers and grow elegant, shiny ones, develop bone-crushing beaks and talons that can rip, tear and claw. Someday these baby Falcons will learn to soar high in the thermals above the Mendenhall Valley, and to pounce mercilessly upon prey that dare to enter the Thunder Mountain gym.

With the Crimson Bears guarding Gastineau Channel to the south and the Falcons guarding the Mendenhall Valley to the north, Juneau basketball fans can be sure of great games to come.

• Brian Wallace is a 1980 graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School and has covered local high school athletics as a photographer for more than 30 years.

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