Northwest Alaska basketball teams sprint to state tournament after two long years of pandemic

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The Qavvik boys of Kivalina haven’t played at the state championship in nearly 10 years, and last week’s big game brought excitement to them and their loved ones after two long years of the pandemic. and drive rare.

“They haven’t played in the state for years, since 1993,” said Francis Douglas, who has a grandson who plays on the team. Douglas was clapping passionately at the Alaska Airlines Center. “We had a lot of pent-up encouragement.”

Douglas’s sister, Hilda Hawley, also has a grandson at Qavvik, while Joseph Swan Sr. – well, he has seven grandsons and great-grandsons playing for the Kivalina Qavvik team, plus two great-granddaughters playing on the Buckland team.

“Half the town is here,” Kivalina resident Janet Mitchell said of the crowd supporting Qavvik. Other teams in northwest Alaska also brought together families from their hometowns and nearby villages.

Last Wednesday’s game saw the boys of Qavvik win as they went from a slower pace to a definitive win, beating Hoonah’s side.

“In the fourth quarter, man, they were all fired up,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell hoped Friday’s game would go as well as Thursday’s, but the team lost to Shaktoolik. Still, playing in the state tournament was a significant accomplishment for the team, given how little practice this season.

“To tell you the truth, they had no practice because of COVID,” Mitchell said. “They do pretty well because they work outdoors a lot – they go hunting and stuff.”

Hawley agreed: “They didn’t go to the regionals that would bring them here last year because of COVID. The other year they didn’t have a gym. So this year it was a miracle. “

When the team didn’t have a gym open, they still played basketball as much as they could, Hawley said.

“We didn’t have a gym open so they had to train at home,” she said. “We were drinking coffee, and they were playing, and we were like, ‘Don’t spill my coffee! Don’t break my coffee!

Hawley’s grandson Abraham is “a star player” whose love for basketball was born when he was taught the sport by his grandfather. She said that for the people of Kivalina, physical health and prowess (strength??) is cause for celebration, whether it’s the Eskimo Olympics, hunting or basketball.

“We love this sport: it gives them something to strive for in life,” said Hawley, who was a ballerina herself. “And these boys – When there is a death in the village, it is very difficult to find volunteers, and the coach goes to VHF, saying: ‘Boys, boys, go help digging!’ And they will. That’s the kind of boys they are. That’s why we celebrate them.”

Donita Jones, whose daughter plays for the Buckland team, was also proud of the team, despite losing to Shishmaref.

“After regionals, the girls went home for two weeks and practiced every day and worked hard,” Jones said. “They are learning from each other as a young team.”

Another mother of a Buckland player, Mae Armstrong, also said the team practices a lot.

“For most of them, it’s their first time here,” she said. “They could talk to each other more, but as a young team I think they’re doing very well being able to show up and represent their school.”

After Wednesday’s game, Buckland’s Amy Curtis said she wanted to work more on her disposition and passing skills, but she’s glad she and her teammates got a chance to compete.

“It took us a long time to get here,” she said.

The Point Hope Tikigaq women’s basketball team, which won an Alaska state championship on Saturday, also worked hard to perform well in the state.

Guy Tuzroyluk, whose daughter plays on the team, said the girls “have practiced a lot at home” and were a little nervous ahead of the Anchorage games. Tuzroyluk came to support his daughter and the Tikigaq girls.

“My whole family is here – my mum and dad, his grandparents and the grandparents on his mum’s side,” he said. “Everyone is there. It’s nice to get away from it all and it’s fun to watch the kids play.”

What was important for the Tikigaq girls in last week’s games was playing together, said Point Hope elder Caroline Cannon. Unity is something everyone at Point Hope has been striving for over the past two years, when the pandemic caused limitations and stress, she said, and overcoming difficult times was possible. for the village with the advice of elders and following traditional practices – such as whaling.

“We’re preparing for the whaling, so it brings us together. We know when there’s unity, there’s peace,” she said. “I hope everyone involved in this 1a, 2a, 3a, 4a – tournament finds unity. We are all winners, because overcoming this COVID is essential.”

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