When the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé boys baseball team won the Region V tournament, the school district’s travel policy and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s relatively high rate of coronavirus transmission terminated hopes of a state championship.
But the team might not have played its final game just yet.
A group of team parents is raising money and looking at a tournament near Los Angeles that the players could compete in as an independent team unaffiliated with the Juneau School District.
“This is my last kid. He’s a senior,” said Melissa McCormick, whose son Brock plays for the Crimson Bears, in a phone interview. “They need to have something to look forward to. If nothing else, it’s a bunch of kids on a spring break together.”
As long as the players aren’t representing the school, the school district has nothing to do with it, said a school district official.
“That would be the same as a club sport traveling to a tournament,” said school district chief of staff Kristin Bartlett in a phone interview. “It’s not something we would prohibit or endorse. We wish them luck and we hope everybody avoids getting sick.”
The tournament, the Swoosh Spring Invitational, kicks off this weekend, said McCormick.
“The opportunity came up yesterday. We as parents noticed the mental states of the kids. They just won, they were the Region V champs. We started doing some research,” said Melissa McCormick. “We will of course be taking mitigation strategies. We understand that Orange County is in the red. There’s a risk associated with it, but it’s one all of the parents have said they’ll take for the kids.”
Melissa McCormick said that a youth advocacy organization she represents, Find Your Fire, will help collect donations for the team’s travel and lodging expenses, which are estimated at $1,400-1,500 per student with the tight timeline.
Playing their away game
Brock McCormick said it was unfortunate that they weren’t playing for a state title, but they were still game to play one last tournament.
“We’ve all been playing together for so long and we’ve been striving for so long. The last couple years, our team wasn’t the greatest, but this was our year to make a run,” Brock McCormick said. “It was pretty unreal. We’d been kind of used to getting disappointed by COVID.”
About nine players have committed to the tournament so far, said team parent and possible stand-in coach Ben Kriegmont, with several more still deciding. The decision of whether the team will travel will come in the next day or two, Kriegmont said, and depends largely on the amount of money for travel and lodging the parents are able to raise from the community. The team will need at least eight or so players to be effective on court, Kriegmont said.
“I’ll be the coach in name. We’ll let the senior captains do most of the coaching,” Kriegmont said in a phone interview. “I’ll put my name in the scorebook and sit back and let them handle things.”
Lack of leadership from the Alaska School Activities Association contributed to this, Kriegmont said, including a recent decision to move the tournament to the higher-risk Mat-Su region without inclusion of voices from outside Anchorage and the Mat-Su.
“I can’t say I’m at all pleased with their lack of leadership throughout this,” Kriegmont said. “With this, it seems like they’re not going to be able to compete because of decisions made by ASAA and the school districts.”
Parents were not reminded that school district policy would forbid travel to high-risk regions like the Mat-Su region until after the boys’ victory on Saturday, Melissa McCormick said.
“The parents did not know about that until the day after they won Region V. We knew the Mat-Su was in the red,” Melissa McCormick said. “Originally, it was in Anchorage. Suddenly, it was in the Mat-Su with the numbers climbing. Was there lack of communication? Yes. It’s a lot of adults that have made poor decisions, and it reflects poorly on then, but it’s affecting the kids.”
Ahead of the tournament championship game in Ketchikan, JDHS coach Robert Casperson told the Empire it was uncertain whether the team would be able to travel to play in the state tournament. The decision to move the tournament was made in mid-February following Anchorage orders that prohibited indoor sports teams from traveling into Anchorage.
A number of other teams have lost the opportunity to compete due to the vagaries of when and where tournaments have occurred, Bartlett said. The Juneau football team was also unable to compete due to Anchorage’s high case rate, Kriegmont said. Last year, the state basketball tournament was canceled, and Thunder Mountain High School was similarly unable to compete following a Region V title. A club hockey tournament in Anchorage in October resulted in an outbreak cluster that saw more than 300 attendees being advised to isolate across all of Alaska.
“It’s definitely disappointing for everyone. We would definitely prefer that all of our athletes compete in any competitive event they’re involved in,” Bartlett said. “I think the spring sports will be able to travel out of the Southeast. The trends are looking good. Another benefit is that spring sports happen outdoors.”
For the players, many of whom have played together since 3rd grade, the season still has some life left in it, Brock McCormick said.
“Last night we played a little scrimmage against ourselves. It didn’t seem right to go out that way,” he said. “Most of the guys have already agreed to go. A lot of them will look at colleges while they’re there, but most of them want to have a good spring break and play basketball one last time.”