My Alaska chauvinism is OD-ing.
When I began my Alaska residency on Aug. 8, 1967, I had no idea that:
Alaskans would play on both sides in a Super Bowl,
an Alaskan would play in the Pro Bowl and win three Super Bowl rings,
an Alaskan would put in a three-point shot to help win a national college basketball championship and then go on to help win an NBA championship
an Alaskan would help win two Stanley Cups and become the first Hispanic in the NHL
Alaskans would be named bowler of the year and senior bowler of the year.
And, of course, a former Wasilla mayor would become an international celebrity.
Tom Bodett, Jewel Kilcher, the late Susan Butcher, and Irene Bedard have also become national celebrities in addition to the Alaskans featured on the dozen or more reality TV shows.
When I arrived in Fairbanks 45 years ago, people considered Alaska a joke or the most terrible and desolate, Godforsaken place on the planet. Or both. “Alaska?!...do you live in a igloo. Yuk, yuk.”
This month has become particularly remarkable. It’s one thing for Alaskans to participate in the Winter Olympics; we have somewhat of a head start in that regard. It’s another for 75% of participating Alaskans to win Summer Olympic medals. Then yesterday, a softball team from Anchorage became international champions. It was something of a thrill to hear fans in Kirkland, Washington cheering "USA, USA, USA" for tjhe Anchorage girls against their Canadian opponents. Granted, it was only a 9-team tournament, but, hey, how long does our softball season last here, compared to places like Texas and Puerto Rico? (Yesterday, the Nunaka Valley girls performed much better than the ESPN 2 crew covering the game. In introducing the Alaskans' home city, the crew reported Anchorage population as a little over 38,000 and, even when the coaches introduced their team as noo-NA-ka Valley, the play-by-play announcer referred to them as NOO-na-ka Valley. In case you're wondering, pronunciation is as important in broadcasting as spelling is in print media.) Given how Northern teams traditionally fare in the College World Series and the Little League World Series, the feat is even more remarkable.
Alaska teams doing well is nothing new. The Goldpanners, Oilers, Pilots, and Miners have won at least 16 national championships since 1969. (Even the now-defunct North Pole Nicks once reached the National Baseball Congress World Series finals.) The UAA men have played for the NCAA Division II championship and recently reached the Final Four in that tournament in addition to upsetting lots of big time college basketball programs. The women won five straight Shootout tournaments against DI teams and reached the DII Final Four two years in a row. Once, the men Seawolves defeated Michigan at a neutral site the year the Wolverines won the D-I championship. The Aces have won two ECHL championships in recent years. UAF has won numerous rifle national championships.
But, hey, with a couple of minor exceptions they were Alaska-based teams, not teams consisting primarily of Alaskans.
If anything, that process is reversing. Our big-time athletes and even show business folks are filling up big time Outside sports teams, TV shows, and movies.
Excellence in athletics, has become, as the food labels and spin-off sweatshirts point out, Alaska grown.
If we ever were that stereotyped backwater refuge for losers too inferior to succeed in other places, we’re certainly not that now.
Lower 48 folks who used to look down on us are now looking up to us.
Score one for our side.