Two events have changed our perspective this fall: my husband got the assistant principal job at Homer High School and we got an exchange student from Mexico. Both of these events have initiated us into a new group: high school sports.
Anywhere else, kids just hop on a bus and ride to their destination. In Alaska, if schools in the bush (not on the road system) want to have sports, they must get other teams to come and play them, in addition to getting out of the bush to go play other teams. Plus, the distance between schools can be immense. The Kenai Peninsula School District requires an administrator be at nearly every home sports event as well as some of the larger away events. Thus, Douglas ended up traveling nearly every weekend from mid-August through October for sports. Our exchange student, who was in swimming, traveled a great deal too. Here are some of their adventures in the name of high school sports.
Kodiak is an island 45 minutes away by plane and 9 hours away by ferry (on a good day, or depending on whether you're going with or against the winds and tide). Kodiak's football program is relatively new. In order to be part of the conference, they have to help pay for teams to come play them. This year they wanted to go cheap and make the Homer football team take the ferry both ways. This would have meant the students would have to take a bus to Whittier to get on the ferry, take the ferry to Kodiak, and then take the ferry back. They would have missed 3 days of school for a Saturday game to make all the connections. After much negotiation, they flew there but took the ferry back.
Even taking the ferry back can be quite an ordeal. They had to be at the ferry terminal 2 hours before casting off, which was 9 p.m. They were supposed to get out of the harbor at 11, but the ferries carry freight, and the day the football team was heading home it took an extra 2 hours to unload and load the freight, so they didn't even get out of harbor till after 1 a.m. The kids were sprawled all over the ship in any comfortable place they could find. There are often a number of different sports teams or groups on the ship at any given time. At noon the next day, the team arrived in Homer. With a plane ride they would have been home the evening before, but the cost was prohibitive for a team of 40.
The next weekend Douglas got to spend 5 days going to a volleyball tournament in Cordova. The kids took a bus to Whittier, hopped on the ferry for what is normally a short ride to Cordova, but the ferry had to stop by Valdez to pick up volleyball players so that added a few hours to the ride both ways. Once, teams from an entire tournament got stuck in Cordova for a week because of bad weather, and some administrators were ecstatic to get cots in the water treatment plant. The little town wasn't equipped handle that many people for that long.
This year swimming regionals were in Kodiak, so the swim/dive team had to figure out how to get their entire team to Kodiak, house them and transport them. All the other teams on the Kenai Peninsula had to do the same. The swim team coaches opted to charge the students $300 to go to Kodiak, which was basically their plane ticket, and fundraising paid for the housing and transportation. Some kids didn't go because their families couldn't afford it.
Nearly every swim meet that was more than 4 hours away (there are only a few high schools of Homer's size that are closer than Anchorage), students had to pay $50-$60 for the hotel and then they were on their own for meals. This adds up. Our exchange student probably spent $600 or more to swim this year.
Next week Douglas is going to go to Barrow with the Homer wrestling team. He has to figure out when he needs to be there, find connecting flights from Homer to Anchorage to Fairbanks to Barrow. At this point all the hotels in Barrow are full the first night he is supposed to be up there so he has to find a place to stay....somehow, somewhere. Hopefully all the flights won't be full by the time he makes his reservations.
When teams travel, sometimes a the hosting school is willing to house them and even feed them. Homer is good about that: this past weekend they hosted a wrestling tournament for 11 schools from all over the state. All the teams stayed in the high school. When the volleyball team went to Cordova the school there fed all the teams breakfast each day. This relieves the fundraising burden, and as well as family finances, but it is partly because many communities don't have fast food restaurants or other quick food options.
Now our exchange student is on the cross-country ski team. Parents are required to help volunteer and fundraise. The athletes themselves must volunteer at least 10 hours to fundraising during the season, and a chart in the locker room keeps track of their progress. That is on top of training and waxing their skis, never mind about homework. Sports become their life.
I am blown away by the commitment of families to their kids' sports. In Homer High School, 60% of the students participate in sports (not counting other extracurricular activities). Some students are in 3 different sports. I can't even begin to imagine how expensive that could get. This year we have been initiated into this culture, both from an administrator's perspective and as parents. It makes my head swim to think about it, and I don't know if I'm glad that I now know what is in store for me in a few years when I'll have two kids in high school!