Fifty below. Snowdepth twenty inches.
Chizhin Zhea – Home of the Eagles. Forty-two years ago I was proud to be a Richardson Eagle. Now, I am proud to be a Fort Yukon Eagle. Funny how that worked out. Basketball is the rage here, and it is big time entertainment. Our Eagles and Lady Eagles teams are very good. The kids are talented, fast and athletic; the coach is savvy and has drilled his teams in the art of defense. If someday you are fortunate enough to visit Fort Yukon in wintertime, you must see our Eagles play.
Basketball here is nearly indistinguishable from basketball anywhere else. The hardwood floors drum to the rhythm of running feet and shouts of encouragement rain from the bleachers. And, of course, we have a concession stand stocked with lots of traditional sports food – hot dogs and chili dogs, nachos and nachos supreme, pop and energy drinks and water, pizza and pretzels and popcorn, and much, much more…
Most villages field both boys’ and girls’ teams. Very small villages may only be able to field one coed team of five players, no bench! That’s right, a team of five plays the whole game without relief and if a player is hurt, his team plays on one man short. Our Lady Eagles field 6 players; the Eagles field 11.
We don’t have cheerleaders. Instead, the elementary kids sometimes line up along the sidelines before a game and get hand slaps from our players as they are introduced. We have cake walks, too, at halftime and between games. Yes, between games. You see, remoteness alters the sport of basketball just a bit. Villages invite each other to come play, and the home teams pay the traveling expenses for the visiting teams. This is very expensive for villages in the bush because it means paying for air travel. To make the most of the dollars spent, the teams play Friday night and again Saturday afternoon. Both boys’ and girls’ teams play each day. Two weeks ago Minto came to play, but their girls canceled due to illness. Did we cancel the Lady Eagles’ game? No way! In our village basketball, like life, goes on. Our own villagers fielded a lady’s team and played against the Lady Eagles. We are committed basketball fans! Think about this for a moment. You live in a village without restaurants or theaters, what do you do for fun? In Fort Yukon, you enjoy watching your teams play basketball. And it is great fun! We have no lack of morale in our gym.
Oh, so just how expensive is it to play basketball here? It costs us $5000 to fly another team and refs into Fort Yukon. Tickets are $7.50 for Friday, and another $7.50 for Saturday. Fifteen dollars for four games, that’s not bad! The ticket and concession sales go toward offsetting the travel expenses. We haven’t any motels here, so the visiting team sleeps in our school and our community cooks meals for them. Friday night the Anderson team was treated to moose stew and homemade bread. They were supposed to fly home last night, but they are still here this morning, waiting for clearance. Fairbanks was fogged in last night and again this morning, so their flight has been delayed.