The Homer girls basketball team was supposed to go to the Juneau tournament Jan. 1-3, but just a couple weeks before it was discovered that the team had not been signed up. The girls coach decided to join the boys’ team going to the Ketchikan basketball tournament. Unfortunately, many of the girls’ families had scheduled their vacations around the Jan. 1-3 time, planning to be back in time to get to Juneau Jan. 1. We had a trip to Arizona planned for Christmas break, but by a stroke of fate, we’d actually paid for the cancellation insurance so although we didn’t get our annual Alaska Airlines companion ticket back (quite a loss, actually), we got our miles and other tickets reimbursed fully and we so cancelled our vacation so Aurora could play in the Ketchikan tournament.
Like any other sports trip to the bush, there is an amazing amount of coordination to make it happen. Here’s how it looked for the kids: On Christmas Day (yes, you read that right!) the boys and girls teams, coaches, managers and Douglas as principal converged on the school at 6 p.m. (we had friends over and had to shoo them out to drive Douglas and Aurora to town!). They got on a school bus and rode to Anchorage where they slept on the floor of a church overnight. Early the next morning the boys headed to the airport, flying out about 9 a.m. A few hours later, the girls flew out.
|One of the small airports--Petersburg or Wrangell probably--|
as Douglas stood at the door getting fresh air between flights
The flight hopscotches through small towns in Southeast Alaska, barely getting in the air before it is time to descend for the next town. There were 3 stops each way, with Juneau on both routes but different small towns for the other stops. Each small town stop involved a 45-minute wait as folks got off, collected their luggage, and the next folks got their luggage loaded and were screened at the door of the plane before getting on. Juneau was a longer layover, except for the girls going there. Apparently the fog was too bad to land, so after circling for awhile they finally skipped it and went on to the next town.
|The ferry across the river from the airport to the city of Ketchikan|
The city of Ketchikan (note I said city!) is built against a mountain so there is nowhere for an airport. So the airport is across the river on an island. A 15-20 car ferry shuttles vehicles and people across every 30 minutes for $5 per person or $10 per car. The river is only a few hundred yards wide, so even though Ketchikan is “right there” it is still a process to get there!
The girls got off the ferry, were picked up by a school bus and went right into the gym and participated in the shooting contest, a popular part of basketball tournaments. By then they were starving because they hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast aside from a small snack on the plane that the coach bought them all. Doug’s advice is to take food and water if you take these flights because you cannot get off the plane at most stops and it is a long day.
Ketchikan band and sports parents offer to be host families for visiting teams that want it. That first evening the girls were separated into pairs, met their host families and for the rest of the week their host families drove them around, fed them and some even took them sightseeing. For many of the girls who went, this tournament was a highlight of their season, in part because of meeting locals and the hospitality of the host families.
|View of Ketchikan from Douglas' hotel window--gray foggy day (the norm there!)|
Ketchikan High School is fairly large, 500-600 students which puts them solidly in the 4a large schools division. There was quite a mix of schools represented from all divisions from 1a through 4a, with 8 girls and 8 boys teams playing. So there were some unevenly matched games, but many teams didn’t have their full rosters as people were on vacation. So it was just a fun way to get in some basketball over break and not have to miss any school (the trip spanned 6 days for a 3-day tournament!).
|Ketchikan High School gym|
The tournament ended on Saturday night. Sunday everyone reversed the process and ferried to the airport, flew through 3 airports to Anchorage and caught the bus home (we did a mini-vacation in Anchorage to make up for missing Arizona).
The price tag for this trip is somewhere in the range of $8000 per team, with a portion of that being passed on to the players. Having the host families reduced the cost for the girls since they didn’t need to buy any food (the boys stayed in a school). Ketchikan helped pay for part of the trip, which was a nice benny and not one schools can expect when traveling to the bush.
Overall, it was yet another Alaskan adventure that puts a whole different spin on travel for school sports.