The M/V LeConte awaits repairs at the Alaska Marine Highway System terminal in Juneau on Wednesday.(Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

After ferry breaks down and strands small-town hoopsters, locals step up

Basketball is life for many of Southeast Alaska’s small town student-athletes, and though the hardwood is an important gathering place, much of basketball life in Southeast is spent on a wetter surface: the waves beneath an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry.

The inlets, straits and channels of Southeast serve as the arteries and veins of regional sports and activities travel in the Southeast region of the state, formed as it is like an entanglement of islands, reefs and peninsulas.

The AMHS ferry schedule dictates the rhythm of Southeast’s sports seasons. When that schedule changes, it can cost teams financially and competitively.

That might have happened this week if it weren’t for a team effort. One of the AMHS aging ferries, the M/V LeConte, suffered mechanical issues on Saturday, leaving three of the region’s smallest schools stranded at the 16-team, 200 plus student Region V 1A tournament at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

Teams from Angoon, Kake and Hoonah are safely home now and back in school, but not before troubleshooting their travel arrangements. MEHS, AMHS and Allen Marine staff teamed up to make sure teams from Hoonah, Angoon and Kake made it home after being stranded for two days.

Tournament Director Andrew Friske got the call last Saturday from AMHS scheduling manager Kerri Traudt. She had bad news: the LeConte, which was scheduled to pick the teams up that night, had mechanical issues with a generator. They’d have to order a part from the Lower 48 which wouldn’t reach the vessel until Wednesday at the earliest.

“The part needs to be shipped up from Illinois and it wasn’t going to be here until Wednesday,” Friske said.

There were other ferries available to pick the students up, Traudt told the Empire on Wednesday, but the LeConte, one of AMHS smallest vessels, is the only ferry able to dock in Angoon, Kake and Hoonah.

So Friske had to figure out how to get six basketball teams home. When Traudt called, most of the student-athletes were gathered in Mt. Edgecumbe’s gym, watching the last few games of the tournament. Friske would make an announcement to the group, but not before calling Eric Majeski, General Manager at Allen Marine, a tour company which keeps a smaller ferry ready to go in Sitka.

Majeski was at a wrestling tournament with his son, he told the Empire, but quoted Friske some prices and said he could get over to take the students home on Monday. Friske made the announcement and offered the option for students to sign up for the Allen Marine trip.

Some athletes and their supporters opted to fly home, while others bunked in the school gym, or slept on church floors, Friske said.

There was also the matter of supporters cars and team vans. Those wouldn’t be able to make it home until the LeConte was repaired, but Traudt said AMHS refunded vehicle fees but will bring them home as soon as they can.

Traudt said she works closely with Athletic Directors in Region V to make sure the ferry schedule syncs as much as possible with Region V sports. Sometimes, especially with aging ferries and a whittled down winter schedule, it doesn’t always work out as planned.

“I think it was a good team effort,” Friske said.



• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.



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