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

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

Soboleff leaves Lions Club in younger generation’s hands

Hear from one wise lion.

Sasha Soboleff, the eldest son of the late Dr. Walter Soboleff, recently retired from the Juneau Lions Club.

Soboleff had been active in the Lions Club and the organization of its annual basketball tournament for the past three decades. He spent about six years at the president of the service organization.

He spoke to the Empire about his first memories of the Lions Club and helping put on the Gold Medal Tournament.

Juneau Empire: How long does your Gold Medal involvement go back, and can you give me a picture of how you became the Juneau Lions Club president?

Sasha Soboleff: I was born in ’45, and my dad — who was very active in the Lions Club back in those days — used to take me to the Juneau Lions Club luncheon that they had which was held at the Gold Room at the Baranof Hotel. And there were 100 Lions in the Juneau Lions Club back in the late-’40s, early-’50s. That was how I first became acquianted with the work the Lions Club was doing.

My involvement on a regular, consistent, day-day-basis, actually began when I was a kid but it came to full bloom when I returned to be the assistant principal at Juneau-Douglas High School in ’87. I remained active in the club and there was another young man that was about my age, his name was Leo Houston — bless him, he’s gone now. Leo and I ran the tournament as Gold Medal co-chairs for several years together during that time.

Empire: Was there many challenges to keep it running when became president?

Soboleff: It’s always been like it is. It takes a year to plan it together. We set up the process where we write out invitations to the communities, inviting whomever to come and participate in our tournament and then we receive back from them their indications that they would like to or don’t like to come and be part of the tournament. Before it used to be handled by word of mouth and passed along by different individuals coming through Juneau. Now because of the electronic age we’re able to send those invitations out electronically.

Empire: What’s been the most fulfilling part about helping put on the tournament for the past two decades?

Soboleff: When you start filling up the gymnasium and one half of the gym on one side is reserved for Hoonah and the other side of the gym on the scoreboard side where the players check in, that’s for all the other communities: Juneau, Haines, Klukwan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Kake, Angoon, Metlakatla. They all have to sit on the other side of the gym. That means that you get to see your friends that you grew up with and the elders who come in.

It has become so much a part of the culture of Southeast Alaska that many of the ANCSA corporations and many of the Native corporations that meet all schedule their committee meetings during the week of Gold Medal.

The other satisfying part is it brings anywhere from $2.5 to $3 million dollars to Juneau. Not counting the amount of money that’s raised by the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. It’s just a huge economic boom that becomes kind of the things that happens in the spring. You know spring is coming when Gold Medal Tournament starts to play.

Empire: What would you say is your crowning achievement if you have one?

Soboleff: The fact that we introduced the tournament to the women’s bracket was a pretty significant step because prior to that it didn’t exist. In order to bring change to the Juneau Lions Club you had to have an ability to recognize that there is something bigger than just (running) the tournament. You’re donating your time to do fundraising. We turn around and give all the money back to the community. Every penny. We’re a nonprofit which means you take money in, you have to disperse money out. It can’t be spent on yourself.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or

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