Kiana’s boys basketball team needed 1 more player. An 8th-grade girl volunteered.

A basketball team in red wearing masks
(L-R) Moody Barr, Micah Wells, Ryan Atoruk, Joseph Barr, Alec Mills, Fannie Williams and Coach Shirelle Barr of the Kiana Lynx. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Arctic Borough School District)

Three girls teams and seven boys teams came to Kotzebue this week to compete for a shot at going to the state basketball championship in Wasilla. Students from one village had to get creative to have enough players to compete.

In Alaska, a high school team can’t play in a tournament without a minimum of five players. In bigger cities like Anchorage — or even hub villages like Kotzebue — that isn’t too difficult.

But at Kiana’s school, which serves about 120 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, it can be a little tougher.

As the school was looking to fill the team, athletic director Tommy Wells says they were one short.

“Originally, when they first started, there was only four players,” Wells said. “In order for them to play, we had to have Fannie join.”

He means Fannie Williams, an eighth grade girl who volunteered to be on the team. She says she just thought it would be a good way to help out and get on the court.

“I don’t know,” Williams said. “I just wanted to play ball, I guess.”

Eventually the team was able to get a sixth player, and Williams says the season was progressing about as normal as possible.

“It was good. We had practices,” she said.

However, a case of the coronavirus popped up in Kiana right before the tournament, and Wells says that affected one of the players and the team’s coach. Wells had to come down in the coach’s place.

“It was a close contact,” Wells said. “So we had to come down with five.”

Kiana wasn’t the only boys team that had girls playing. Three of the seven players on the Deering boys team were girls. However, because Kiana only had five players, every one of them, Williams included, had to be on the court for the whole game.

Kiana ended up losing both games in the tournament after playing against teams with much larger rosters. Though she ended up heading home without a win, Williams says she was happy for the chance to show that the girls in the villages could play ball just as well as the boys.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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