Before moving to Alaska, I was sure Homer had little to offer and was, literally, at the "ends of the earth". Having lived here nearly 2 years now, my view has changed. I still feel like we live at the "ends of the earth," since the road literally ends a few miles past our house, but I have discovered just how much Homer has to offer, and the longer I live here the more amazed I am at the number of opportunities and amount of talent found in this quaint little hamlet.
My daughter's favorite sport is now rock climbing, and Homer boasts 2 public climbing walls (though some private homes are decked out with climbing walls as well, if what I hear is true!). A vibrant community education program offers nearly private lessons with an experienced climber at only $1 per hour long session of climbing, which boggles my mind.
My daughter's second favorite sport is basketball, and though she is in 5th grade, she is on not one, but two different basketball teams! One is offered through the community education program, and the other through a local church. Between practices and games, we have 3-5 days a week accounted for!
My son just joined the Popeyes, the local wrestling team. He has practice 3 days a week, and if we wanted, he could be in a wrestling tournament somewhere in Alaska every single weekend of March and April. As it is, 3 of the next 5 weekends will see us heading up to the Anchorage area. Amazingly, this team for kids ages 5-18, boasts of 60-70 members. Even optional Friday evening practices get at least 25 boys and girls to turn out for open mat time. This past year 4 boys from Voznesenka, one of the Russian schools, went to the state meet, which might help explain that group's enthusiasm for wrestling, and in 2004, Tela O'Donnell, a girl born and raised in Homer, made the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, which contributes to the female interest in the sport here.
Hockey is popular here in Homer, and even the youngest teams (6 year olds!) travel away for weekend tournaments, missing school for the priviledge of competing. A women's league is active here as well.
Ice racing on Beluga Lake in Homer is a perennial favorite for both kids and adults, with built-from-scratch vehicles entertaining the crowds that show up to watch on Sunday afternoons. The ice freezes in November and stays into May, so there is a long season. The first time we went to see it, I was skeptical about whether I would enjoy it (I'm not a big car racing fan), but I was surprised that it was actually fun to watch. If I were a regular I know I would get to know the people and the cars and it would be even more entertaining.
I was amazed when I first found out that there are many kids who take dance lessons in Homer, especially ballet. Alaska--dance?? No way! Yet there are numerous quality productions (The Nutcracker every December; Jazzline in March; Godspell just finished playing this past weekend) featuring young local dancers. These productions also feature outstanding directing, sound, lighting, props, etc. The first time I saw The Nutcracker I couldn't believe the talent was nearly all local--it is a first class production, and they pull it off year after year.
What else to do in Homer? The Homer Soccer Association brings in a coach from the Lower 48 for the summer to run the program, and of course there is a traveling team. Little League and adult softball leagues are active here like everywhere. The Kachemak Nordic Ski Club holds Junior Nordic ski lessons for a couple months January through March and nearly 70 kids show up for that each week. Gymnastics, kayaking, broomball, pilates, yoga, you name it, Homer seems to have it. This list doesn't include all of the artistic groups, painters, writers, poets, photographers, etc. that congregate in Homer, each which warrants a blog all their own.
My fears that Homer was Hicksville, USA with no opportunities for my kids have been laid to rest. In that way it is much like any other place in America: plenty to keep us busy, busy, busy. Part of me yearns for the days when kids didn't have weekend tournaments to constantly be traveling to, and when play meant to go outside and climb trees and explore. Play instead is a sport, and it is competitive. At one point Alaska may have had fewer opportunities than elsewhere, but the influx of talented and ambitious people has led to the creation of developmental programs seeking to maximize children's talents at as young an age as possible.
I'm not complaining; I can hop off this bandwagon as easily as I jumped on. The bottom line is, I am happy these opportunities are available, and it doesn't make us feel exiled to a far planet when there are fun activities for the kids to enjoy. The bottom line: they are having fun!