The Samoan population in Anchorage more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. And as the community has grown rapidly, so has its presence on the city’s softball fields. Samoan churches in Anchorage run coed softball tournaments throughout the summer as a way to bring the community together. The atmosphere is friendly but the competition is fierce.
According to the 2010 Census, 5,953 Samoan people live in Anchorage. And it seems like half of them must be at the Cartee field Complex in east Anchorage on a recent night. The place is packed.
“If you’re looking for any Samoans you’ll find them all here,” Longi Simeaota said.
I find Simeaota in the batter’s box on the edge of one of the fields. She used to play for her family’s team – Big Blue, but an injury forced her onto the sidelines. Now she’s a cheerleader, a position she appears to take very seriously.
“Let’s give that girl a hand,” she said.
Simeaota says the games are friendly, but not too friendly.
“Samoans are very competitive people, yeah? So this is where they get to show off,” Simeaota said.
Big Blue is undefeated in the tournament. And Simeaota and the other cheerleaders want to make sure it stays that way.
Ally Masalosalo is another cheerleader. She’s been cheering for Big Blue since the tournament began in 2005. Back then, Big Blue was one of only three Samoan softball teams in Anchorage. Now, there are 22. Masalosalo says the expansion has been good for the community:
“When we’re not doing this, there’s a lot of division between the churches,” Masalosalo said. “But when we come together like this, it brings us together.”
The summer tournaments are organized by Samoan Churches in Anchorage. Moe Tali is Pastor at MCA Island revival. He’s also a team coach and plays pitcher. He says cricket is a favored sport back in Samoa- an influence from New Zealand, which occupied the country until 1962. But Pastor Moe says softball requires pretty much the same qualities.
“I mean you just give us a bat and a ball and we’ll figure out how to play with it,” Tali said.
The teams are all coed and Pastor Moi says the tournaments emphasize good sportsmanship.
“And that’s the idea, because you can be in church, but once you’re out on the field, the beast comes out,” he said.
At an adjacent field, Preston Augafa is still waiting for his game to start, his one year old daughter resting on his knee. His team is also undefeated in the tournament. He says it’s great to see how the tournament has grown over the years.
“We’re big people, but we like to be physical,” Augafa said. “So that’s what we’re here to do.”
Augafa’s team members are also his family. They all attend a Mormon church in Anchorage. Many other teams are from Pentecostal churches. But Augafa says the tournament brings everyone together.
“Samoan people and different religions, they can be pretty territorial and anti social, but this event has kind of bridged the gap between a lot of that.,” Augafa said. “And a lot of churches that wouldn’t historically get along, that’s the opposite here in Alaska.”
“We get along, we have a good time, we see each other in the off season and say, okay, man we can’t wait for softball, you know?”
Across the park, Big Blue is celebrating another win. And as the players come off the field, the cheerleaders launch into a victory song.
But just because the game is over, doesn’t mean the team is ready to head home. Instead, they eat Samoan pancakes and socialize with other teams. Nevermind that the tournament is scheduled to start up again early the next morning.