Juneau Huskies coach Rich Sjoroos is bringing tradition to a program that doesn’t really have any.
Sjoroos kicked off his first season at the helm of the Huskies football team about two weeks ago, but his work building up the team’s culture began long before that. Over the last few months, Sjoroos has traveled with his team to the Lower 48 for football camps, hosted a team retreat and led strength and conditioning sessions, all in an attempt to get players fired up about football again.
Sjoroos served as the offensive coordinator and head coach at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé, from 2001-2013.
“I just want everybody to have football be their favorite (sport),” said Sjoroos, who said he has noticed a drop in enthusiasm for the game over the last decade. “I like that they play other sports, I think it’s good for overall athleticism. It helps keep their grades up; they learn how to prioritize their time. I think it’s all awesome, but for my love of football, hopefully I can get them to have that same love of the sport that I do.”
The Huskies play in their season opener next Friday night against Service High School in Anchorage. They’ll play their first home game of the season the following week at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Field.
The program did not win a game in the lone season since the Juneau School District consolidated football teams from its two high schools, JDHS and Thunder Mountain High School. Sjoroos hopes that will change this year after the work put in by the team in the offseason.
“When you talk about the strength of our team from the offseason, it was our offensive line,” he said. “Those guys showed up a lot and they’re kind of a quiet group, but when we took attendance each time, it was like, ‘Wow, those are the same core lineman that kept showing up to everything.’ I think that as the season unfolds, people are going to be pleasantly surprised and impressed with our performance with our offensive and defensive lines.”
But winning won’t be the only metric upon which this season will be judged.
Sjoroos and Bridget Weiss, the superintendent of the Juneau School District, both said a big emphasis of this season will be on financial stability. For that to happen, each player is expected to raise $1,900.
Sjoroos said it costs about $125,000 to play a season of football, and the team still owes over $50,000 from previous years.
“I think we’re in such a great position this year to take next steps in building a strong system, a team that is supported by all of our community and has the potential to really bring our community back together again in a unique way,” Weiss said. “It’s a pretty cool opportunity for us, both as a school district and as a community.”
Junior Cooper Kriegmont, a running back for the Huskies, said he’s got most of his money raised. He knows it’s just part of playing football in the capital city.
“Playing football in Alaska is not easy, and it’s definitely a big time commitment and effort commitment,” Kriegmont said. “I think players that play here have a different kind of grit.”
He said he believes Sjoroos will make a good coach.
“He’s been successful in the past, and I don’t see why he won’t be successful now,” Kriegmont said.
Season schedule (all home games played at Adair-Kennedy)
Aug. 16: at Service
Aug. 24: Antelope Union (AZ)
Au. 30: at Dimond
Sept. 6: Wasilla
Sept 13: West Anchorage
Sept. 20: at Chugiak
Sept. 27 at Colony
Oct. 5: Bartlett
How did we get here? A guide to the last two years of football in Juneau
Sept. 30, 2017 — Juneau-Douglas High School loses to Thunder Mountain 26-8 in the last game of the regular season. The Crimson Bears finish the 2017 campaign at 3-4.
Oct. 7, 2017 — Thunder Mountain High School loses to Palmer 28-7 in the Division II state playoffs. The Falcons finish the 2017 campaign at 6-2.
Oct. 17, 2017 — The Juneau School District announces it will send a request to the Alaska School Activities Association to pursue the consolidation of its football and cheer teams at JDHS and TMHS. The school district reports “player safety and development, season cost, program debt and repayment progress, continued shortage of activities funding, realignment of Southeast Conference and ASAA’s willingness to consider a consolidation request” as reasons for the move.
Nov. 2, 2017 — The ASAA board of directors vote 4-1 in favor of approving JSD’s request to consolidate the football and cheer teams.
Nov. 17, 2017 — In an email to the Juneau Empire, then director of student services Bridget Weiss writes the consolidated teams won’t be named after Juneau-Douglas High School (as originally proposed). Weiss writes: “In conversations with ASAA, I have been able to drill down into their bylaws and we have new information from them. We can operate an activity as a district versus having it directly tied to a ‘member school.’” Weiss says a group will be assembled to work toward the creation of the team’s name, mascot and colors.
Dec. 20, 2017 — The school district tabs former TMHS football coach Randy Quinto to lead consolidated football team.
Feb. 6, 2018 — Students from Juneau’s three high schools vote for “Thunder Bears” and “black, silver and white” to be the new mascot the colors of the consolidated teams. Shortly afterwards, a derogatory definition of “Thunder Bears” surfaces online.
March 10, 2018 — Students vote by a 5-4 margin to get rid of Thunder Bears name and restart the mascot selection process at a mascot review discussion featuring former JSD superintendent Mark Miller and Reps. Sam Kito III and Justin Parish of Juneau.
July 26, 2018 — Juneau’s consolidated football team begins practice without a resolution on the name of the team’s mascot.
Aug. 11, 2018 — Juneau drops its season opener 31-8 against Palmer. Around this time, players on the team vote to call themselves “Juneau United.”
Sept. 29, 2018 — Juneau loses to Bartlett 65-12 to finish the regular season 0-8.
Oct. 31, 2018 — Juneau coach Randy Quinto resigns as the head coach of the Juneau football team.
Dec. 28, 2018 — JSD hires Rich Sjoroos as the new coach of the Juneau football team.
Jan. 15-16, 2019 — Students from Juneau’s three high schools vote for “Huskies” to become the new mascot of the consolidated football and football cheer teams.
July 31, 2019 — The Juneau Huskies’ season officially begins.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.