Klukwan’s Michael Ganey, center, shoots against Hydaburg’s Ben Young in the C final at the 2019 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. The tournament returns this March after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Klukwan’s Michael Ganey, center, shoots against Hydaburg’s Ben Young in the C final at the 2019 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. The tournament returns this March after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

After a 3-year break, Gold Medal basketball is almost here

“This tournament is a generational thing.”

Don’t call it a comeback, but the Juneau Lions Club is excited to announce the Gold Medal basketball tournament is returning soon to a court near you. The tournament’s return marks its 74th year after having to take the last three years off due to the pandemic. This year’s tournament will be held Sunday, March 19 through Saturday, March 25 at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yaa.at Kale High School. To avoid interfering with classes, the tournament has been scheduled during JDHS’ spring break vacation.

Ticket prices for week passes will run $65 for adults and $50 for students and seniors while individual day prices are still being worked out, but will be made available at juneaulions.org once tickets are printed. The website is also the best place to check for the official game schedule, though exact times are still being solidified. Lions Club president Edward Hotch said this year the club will be providing an ATM inside the gymnasium to make it easier for people to take out cash for fees and donations.

“It’s a fundraiser tournament, and we donate up to $1,000 scholarship to each high school senior from each community that’s participating,” Hotch said. “With any leftover money available we give out to nonprofits here in Juneau such as AWARE or Glory Hall, etc.”

The same team divisions will be on display that folks have gotten used to seeing for the last 50 or so years. That means B Division, C Division (32 and up), Masters Division (42 and up) or Women’s Division. This year those brackets break down as:

— B-Bracket

Hoonah-Angoon-Kake-Hydaburg-Metlakatla-Haines-Juneau-Yakutat

— C-Bracket

Yakutat-Hoonah-Filcom-Klukwan-Angoon-Kake

— Masters Bracket

Sitka-Kake-Klukwan-Hoonah-Juneau-Angoon

— Womens Bracket

Yakutat-Hoonah-Kake-Prince of Wales-Sitka-Angoon

With this being the first time the tournament has been held in the last three years, Hotch said there are several things the Lions Club is looking forward to in its return. One difference is that this year the Lion’s Club has asked the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska for assistance in cosponsoring to ensure the tournament has enough people working at each game.

“In addition to help from Tinglit and Haida, we will be having some Juneau Lions International members present this year,” Hotch said. “We’ve had maybe one or two of them in the past, but this year we’ll have three, and one of them is the president, I believe, of the Lions International will be here this year to help us out. We also have communities that are submitting names for the Hall of Fame because people that have played for a really long time, they have the criteria to put their names in for the Hall of Fame, so it’s been fun going through that process.”

Sasha Soboleff’s father Dr. Walter A. Soboleff was one of the founding members of the tournament back in 1949. Soboleff explained that the idea for the tournament was aimed at bringing communities in Southeast closer together at a time when getting from each community was especially challenging.

“The only way to get to Juneau from these surrounding communities was by sea boat or some people used trollers, there was no ferry system,” Soboleff said. “It became so popular because people who were coming from these communities recognized that the tournament welcomed all of the teams from these separate communities to come and play basketball. You have to remember that this tournament is a generational thing. Grandmas and grandpas and their relatives have all interacted and competed very successfully and at the same time, they shared their spirit of willingness to get along with one another, in today’s world sometimes that’s somewhat forgotten.”

Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer has been playing in the Gold Medal tournament for roughly the last 20 years. Though he’s mostly played for Sitka and Hoonah in previous years, this time around he’ll be playing for Juneau in the Master’s bracket. Mercer said he has fond memories of the tournament that date back to his childhood when his entire family would look forward to traveling from Sitka to watch and participate every year.

“I think it’s great that we’re able to come back together,” Mercer said. “Gold Medal has been going on for so many years, I watched it as a child, growing up I watched my father play and then participated in it myself. It’s just great that people are able to get back together again, the comradery that it brings in is great and I think it’s good for the community, too. Having all of the outlying communities come into Juneau and enjoy each other for a week of basketball and a week of shopping while we’re working our way into spring as we move forward into the year.”

• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

In this March 16, 2015 photo, Sasha Soboleff, past president of the Juneau Lions Club, introduces then-Gov. Bill Walker, left, during opening ceremonies of the Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

In this March 16, 2015 photo, Sasha Soboleff, past president of the Juneau Lions Club, introduces then-Gov. Bill Walker, left, during opening ceremonies of the Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

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