Alaska Cultural Connections: Gold Medal Basketball Tournament Focuses On Community

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and the Juneau-Douglas High School gymnasium is full. In Division C – which is roughly ages 32-42 – 7-year defending champ Kake is playing Hydaburg. Tournament co-chair and player Edward Kotch from Klukwan says it’s for more than just the basketball.

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“They come back every year so they could meet their friends from other communities ‘cause it’s so hard for people to travel around in Southeast. Some of them come to barter for native foods. We have a lot of people out in the commons selling their beadwork. They reminisce about the old times, the old timers do, and the younger ones watch and say I’m going to be like them when I get older,” Kotch said.

Kotch guesses that 95 percent of players are Alaska Native. It’s all about the economics.

“Since it’s a fundraiser, the communities with the biggest crowds are the ones who get invited because we need the crowd to come in and that’s how we give our money to other people,” Kotch said.

And when a team from a village plays, much of the village comes with them.

“A long time ago in the villages there really wasn’t a lot to do but they had ANB and ANS camps so they built big halls and they used the halls as gymnasiums and that where people gathered to burn some energy and they just got to be real competitive in basketball and they used to take seine boats from village to village so they could compete,” Kotch said.

One of the guys who used to take a seine boat to play is hall of famer William Bean. He’s on the top bleacher of the Kake cheering section. He’s watching his son, point guard Rudy Bean.

“A lot of the old timers says he plays just like his old man, and I’ll take that as a compliment because he’ll run up 50 points if you let him,” Bean said.

William’s wife Lucile is holding their grandson – Rudy’s 2-year old son who is evidently already dribbling and shooting. William won his first championship in 1966 and watches the game intently. Kake’s 7-year reigning championship status is being threatened by a highly competitive Hydaburg. The play is intense, but so is the sportsmanship. Many opposing players help each other off the floor and shake hands after fouls.

“The interplay between the different towns and the competition trying to outdo one another by playing the game of basketball is a lot of fun,” Bean said.

As a hall of famer he’s given lot of himself to the game, but he says it’s taught him too:

“It got me to realize that as you live your life, just like the game of basketball, people are watching you so when we play, you are playing in front of people, its show time, you’ve got to conduct you self in a manner, you’re entertaining, so train hard, be a good athlete, and the people will enjoy watching you,” Bean said.

And that’s become as much a part of culture in Southeast as anything else. Despite some valiant efforts by Kake, Hydaburg wins comfortably. Unfortunately for Kake and Rudy, their reign comes to an end. Hydaburg’s hall of fame center Sid Edenshaw gives credit to some young new speed on his team, and humbly ignores his own part in the win:

“Of course it keeps me in good health and that helps, but I made a lot of friends in the northern communities. And just to come up here and get together and see friends since 1983. I got a ton of friends from all the villages,” Edenshaw said.

Friends, good health, community, and competition–all to raise money for those in need. Seems like a good game.

Hydaburg C went on to win on Thursday and Friday, but lost to Hoonah in Saturday night’s championship game. Angoon won division B and Klukwan won the Masters division.

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