Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Balls and Stripes is a collection of stories about Alaska's most popular sport, basketball — and more. The title comes from my many experiences playing, coaching, and broadcasting Naismith's game; as well as refereeing the sport and also wearing the stripes of a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Basketball has taken me all over Alaska, with radio gear or whistle in hand. 

From Barrow to Petersburg, from Dutch Harbor to Tok, it has been a marvelous journey, with countless amusing experiences as well as dramatic moments. Much of the action occurs in my hometown, Cordova. A small fishing town of 2500 located on Prince William Sound, its denizens are passionate about their hoops, and also their rivalry with Valdez, located just 70 miles away. In many ways, sports transcend location. 

Small town basketball is the same anywhere; yet Alaska, with its vast spaces and dramatic climates, offers unique experiences. In northernmost Barrow, I watched Inupiat cooks shut down a high school cafeteria so they could glimpse the sun for the first time in 67 days; on the way to Dutch Harbor, I heard a pilot announce the reassuring words that he would land the small prop plane “whenever we can”, to load on fuel necessary to complete the flight; in Petersburg, I learned about “julebukking” and Men's Night Out. 

Refereeing, always a source of potential controversy, has provided its share of highlights. How many officials can claim fame for calling a technical foul on a curtain; or playing the first minutes of a championship game with the wrong size ball? 

Football and baseball are also included. Guess who brought Oregon State's mascot Benny the Beaver to Cordova's Iceworm Festival; and dodged barbed wire while tracking down a fly ball in Korea? And, like so many others, who can not recall in vivid detail a last second shot that didn't go in? People, places, moments. Sports - drama, tears, and cheers. It's all here.