Sunday, February 26, 2017


Basketball is life for students in rural Alaska. Our village is no different in this respect. Basketball is one of the few sports that our students can play year round because all it requires is access to an indoor court (and conveniently all of our schools have one of those). Our village does have an outdoor court - one with wooden planking for a court floor, a fishing net in place of a standard hoop net, and endless ocean views - but it is really only in use during the summer months. The rest of the year, the school basketball court is king.

In our district, there are only two schools that are big enough to compete in regular 5-on-5 basketball tournaments. The rest of our small schools, including Pilot Point, compete in 3-on-3 tournaments instead. This year, I volunteered to be our schools basketball coach. Our team was tiny, with only one student allowed to travel, but we still practiced hard and flew to two separate tournaments this season. We were paired up with Port Heiden, a neighboring tiny school, in order to have enough players to compete. Our schools played together for over ten games this season (all packed into two short tournaments trips).

Our first tournament was in January and took us to Nondalton, one of the far northern schools in our district. Nondalton was large compared to Pilot Point and it felt a bit like stepping into a completely different district. There were many teachers at their school, a huge student store stocked with goodies (pizza, big pretzels, soda, etc). It was also a huge change in scenery. Nondalton was full of trees, big lakes, and huge mountains. We stayed there and played basketball games for three days. The student that I took with me had a blast, but I could also tell he was a bit overwhelmed. At our school all of the students are related in some way. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by other boys and girls his own age who weren't related to him. It was fun to see him come out of his shell and make so many friends.

Our second tournament was in Chignik Lake, which is even farther south on the peninsula than Pilot Point. By this time, we (my student and I) were much more comfortable with traveling for a tournament. We both knew exactly what to expect, which was good because this tournament was longer. Flying into Chignik Lake was spectacular, the views were unlike anything else I've experienced. The southern part of the Alaska Peninsula has to be some of the most spectacularly untouched wilderness in the world.

The tournament itself went smoothly. We played four games, but were unfortunately eliminated after that. Our elimination wasn't too surprising though, as our oldest student was only in 9th grade and our players were pretty small compared to the crews that some of the other schools had assembled. Regardless of the outcome, they played their hearts out and had a blast. I was also incredibly proud of my one player because he took home the Citizenship Award for good behavior!

I had a lot of fun at this tournament. The scenery itself was a selling point, but the people of this community were wonderful too. They really turned out to fill the stands for the evening games and it was fun to interact with them. We did have one slightly unnerving experience while traveling to the Lake though. By the second day, I was getting antsy for some fresh air and some of the teachers were eager to get out for a hike. Unfortunately, the locals there were uncomfortable with teachers exploring the area because of a tragedy that happened in our district a few years ago. It was requested of us that we only walk in close proximity to the school, so we didn't get to explore much, but I totally understood their reasoning. With their request in mind, we stayed close to the school, just exploring the beach that was nearby, and still got to enjoy the beauty of the area.

The weeks that we spent traveling for basketball will be weeks that I will never forget. I learned so much about the intense love of basketball that our students have, as well as so much about their individual cultures and homes. I'm so happy that I got the opportunity to coach this year and I hope that I get to continue to do it in the future.

Your turn...Have you ever coached a sport?
Currently listening to...Oceans & Streams - The Black Keys

**Some of the tournament/game photos were taken from the LPSD Facebook and Cutterlight Photography pages. Thank you to everyone who shared photos from the tournament!!** 

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