The distinctive sounds of Gold Medal basketball filled the Juneau-Douglas High School gym on Monday.
The pounding of children’s shoes on the court as they run by, parading flags in support of their villages. The clatter of bodies as players dive for a loose ball. The cries of “Hoonah!” or “Kake!” The occasional beat of a drum.
The 72nd annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament began Sunday, welcoming players and fans from across Southeast. The week centers around basketball, but if you ask people in the stands what they’re looking forward to the most, many will say they’re most excited about the people they’ll see this week.
James Lindoff, a Hoonah resident, has been coming to Gold Medal since 1965. Lindoff said he’s spent time in multiple Southeast communities, and has friends and family spread throughout the region.
“I’ve got cousins and buddies on two different teams,” Lindoff said. “It seems like it doesn’t matter which way it goes, as long as they’re good games.”
Eileen Carle, a Hydaburg resident who prefers to be known as Auntie Ei, was especially excited for the week to start. She wanted to spread that sentiment to others, so midway through a M Bracket game between Hoonah and Kake, she put on a costume.
She donned a large inflatable suit that made her resemble a sumo wrestler wearing a dress. She completed the outfit with a gold crown. Carle walked around the court, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
“This is my first year in a while,” Carle said. “I just thought I’d present myself with my outfit.”
Mayme Nickerson, who was born in Klukwan and now lives in Klawock, is rooting for Hydaburg but has reasons to cheer for all the teams. She showed off a picture of her posing with a couple players prior to the action.
“We were scouting them,” Nickerson joked.
Gordon Guanzon Jr. and Heather James, both of whom are cheering for Angoon, also said this week is about friends and family as much as it’s about basketball. Guanzon said he lives in town, but still has friends and family members who live in Angoon and this serves as an annual family reunion of sorts.
When asked if he knows any of the players, Guanzon didn’t have time to answer before James did for him.
“He knows all of them,” James said.
That seems to be the way Gold Medal works, with everyone knowing everyone. Games can get heated, but after the final buzzer, the players are usually civil. Sometimes, they even band together.
After Hoonah beat Kake to advance in the M Bracket, the two teams gathered in a circular huddle at center court with their arms around one another. As Hoonah’s Any Gray explained afterward, they were gathering to pay their respects to Willis Cavanaugh, a former Kake player who died in the past year.
They did a brief chant as well, and then went their separate ways. The brief gathering fit right in during a week of basketball, friends and family.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.