Winter warming wins

I’ve been in weather where the wind cuts through leather, fleece, skin, muscle and freezes you from the marrow out. It’s mean.
But when it’s in the mid 30s and raining side-ways, that is true misery. Overnight the lack of sun turns asphalt to black ice trails that lead to frozen gravel driveways. When the sun does wake up it only warms things enough to rain again. That’s what it’s like in Klawock, Alaska, right about now, but that’s not going to matter for the next few days at least. Despite two of their nine players battling the flu (including their All-State setter) and losing the first two games of the state final the Klawock Chieftain volleyball team won three straight to claim the state championship Saturday.
As a teacher I am compelled to mention the runner-up Kenny Lake squad had a 3.95 team GPA and won the Academic Award. There’s a patch for that.
Anyway, Sunday evening at seven (three and a half hours after sunset) the denizens of Klawock assembled in the grocery store parking lot on the edge of town to greet the state champs. The 13-hour trip from Anchorage to Klawock took a little longer because the boat from Ketchikan was a little late, but it just gave the townspeople more time to make signs.   Those that couldn’t make the parade stayed at home, blinking their Christmas and porch lights to show their support as the ramble did it’s figure-eight around the town of 750.
I wasn’t there, but I can see it; the fire truck, the ambulance and a 50-car line honking horns for the first time since the last celebration of a high school team – or there was a stubborn bear that wouldn’t get off the road. The parade moves slow, because there is no rush. The route varies and no one is ever really sure when it will end. Some break off and go home to shoot stashed fireworks left over from the Fourth of July while others keep the parade alive for a few more laps.
When I was in high school, we spray-painted ‘State Champs’ on the side of a hill during school, so when the girls basketball team returned home with their fourth state title in 20 years, they could see it from their seats in the float planes before landing.
I could see the hill where the red letters stained the snow from my science class desk.
My science teacher at the time was Stu Merchant, the guy that offered extra credit if we volunteered to let him dump us on an island for the weekend with only the contents of a sandwich-size Ziploc bag and what we could fit in our pockets. He may have been kidding since he knew we were going out of town on a cross country trip, but we would have loved it.
On Saturday he provided another parade-worthy event, as he was inducted into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame.
I wasn’t there for that either, but I bet he dressed up real nice. Carhartt jeans and maybe even a button down shirt (Alaskan Formal) to go with the white hair and white mustache that haven’t changed since he taught me how to do reverse lay-ups in sixth grade.
But the weekend didn’t stop there.
Even though Craig was a bitter rival of Klawock when I was in school, when state titles are brought back to the island, everyone breaks out the sockeye salmon for a community potluck at the gym. After Tanner Thain won his second state wrestling championship, the Prince of Wales Island Facebook community erupted in frenzy of ‘like’s.
The weekend was almost perfect, like a steelhead jig on the top of a Christmas tree. Maybe by Friday things will be a little more normal and the weather will seem wet and cold again. Basketball practice started Monday at 6:30 am, make-up work was due and new chapters have begun, but the big white 2011 state championship banner will hang from the crowded rafters in the Klawock High School gym, where it’s always warm and dry.

See column in Manteca Bulletin

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Karen Cleary says:

    Amazing – an eye-witness account from thousands of miles away. Thank you for remembering all of us, Jeff.

  2. well said Jeff. Was very good to read. Keep up the good writing and teaching.

  3. Pauline says:

    I felt like I was there in Klawock with you vivid words describing the return of the island champs! Well said, and thanks from Pauline 🙂

  4. Cheryl Fifield says:

    Great article, Jeff! Thanks!

  5. Thanks for reading.

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