Participating in a high school sport is a big commitment anywhere. But in Southeast Alaska, it’s especially complicated. In order to compete, teams must fly or take a ferry to another island. The trips Ketchikan High School sports teams take consume a lot of time and energy.
Here’s a closer look at how that impacts the young athletes. KRBD followed the Kayhi Lady Kings JV soccer team on their last trip of the season, in late May.
“Basically it’s a lot of chaos cause there’s like 3 sports teams trying to check in at once,” Soccer player Alison Blair explains as she waits in line to check in at the Ketchikan airport.
Three student teams are crammed together, carrying duffel bags and sports equipment. Girls soccer, softball, and baseball are all traveling this weekend.
“They’ve got this down,” head soccer coach Marissa Medford says. Her team is heading to the season’s final two games in Sitka. Medford says the travel schedule has been non-stop.
“The way our schedule worked out this year, we were on the road from end of April until now, aside from last weekend, it had been 41 days since we played at home,” she said.
They played two weekend in Juneau, then flew to Anchorage for a four-game series on the Kenai peninsula. The next weekend, a series of home games against Juneau. And now they’re on the road for their final trip.
To make all of this travel possible, there is a lot of fundraising, which Medford says is exhausting. Travel costs this season, she says, were about $45,000.
“It’s very expensive,” Medford said. “And you don’t realize that until you’re in charge of making sure the money’s there to get them where they need to be. It’s a lot of work.”
The school district gives the team about $20,000. It’s up to the girls and coach to raise the rest. They spend months doing fundraisers, selling concessions, and asking for sponsorships.
The team boards the plane to Sitka. Once they arrive, they’ll be driven to homes of Sitka soccer players. If you play a sport or travel for other school extracurriculars, you get used to staying with strangers.
Soccer player Katie Powers says it lets you see a different side of the people you’re competing against.
“On the field you see them as the team to beat and you see them fouling your team…but it definitely gives you an impression of them. Then you joke around with them later….and they’re really nice and at first it’s a little odd to see, it’s surprising because you get this impression of them but I think it’s really nice that we get to stay with them… It’s nice to get to see them outside of the game.
Right now, the girls’ Ketchikan classmates are in school. The team is missing yet another Friday of classes, which means they have a mandatory 2-hour study time.
“This year the travel schedule was crazy, we traveled for a month straight. That was harder on school work,” said Powers.
Coach Medford says the intense travel schedule has also been hard on the team’s health. She talks about a trip they took to the Kenai Peninsula, where they played four games in five days.
“Is that last game worth it then? You pay so much money to get somewhere, you wanna pile the games on. But at what cost? By that time they’re so exhausted that you’re more worried about safety than anything,” Medford said.
Later that afternoon, the team faces off against the Sitka High School Wolves. The Lady Kings JV played Sitka back in March and easily won. In fact, the team is undefeated this season.
And that doesn’t change in this game. The Lady Kings beat Sitka 5-0.
But at the next game, things take a turn. At halftime, the score is 1-1. Will their last game be the first they lose?
Striker Angel Spurgeon almost scores several times, but the ball hits the post. Sitka has more luck, scoring two more times.
“We definitely didn’t play our best,” Katie Powers says at the end of the game.
“Their advantage is they can go home and sleep in their own beds,” said teammate Vonnie Spigai. “And they’re subbing in every three minutes it seems.”
“But you can’t blame a game on that completely,” Powers said. “It wasn’t one of our good games, and they played pretty good.”
The next morning, the girls are back at the Sitka airport. Melody Jacksch and Teiara Hayes are sitting in the crowded terminal reflecting on the last games of the season.
“Our head wasn’t really in the game,” Hayes said. “We were focused on, this is our last game, we get to go home and do nothing. So we weren’t really in it to win it I guess”
“It was kind of sad because it broke our undefeated streak,” Jacksch said. “But it’s okay. I guess you can’t be on a high horse forever.”
The girls have some big questions on their minds. They’re both trying to decide whether the huge commitment that is high school soccer is worth it.
Jacksch plays alto sax in two high school bands. Music, soccer, and school have made for a difficult balancing act.
“Being musical and being in sports is just really hard in Ketchikan, you gotta kind of be one or the other,” she said. She’s thinking about dropping soccer next year.
As for Hayes, she’s decided to quit ballet so that she has time to continue with soccer.
“I’ve done ballet for 10 years, and leaving it kind of feels like you’re being shot in the heart,” she said. “But you’re doing it for something else that you’re learning to love.”
If soccer is such a huge and exhausting commitment…why play? The girls give a lot of reasons during the trip: they like to travel, it’s a bonding experience. But something Coach Medford says gets to the core of why Southeast Alaska spends so much money and time to let their high school teams compete.
“We have a really bad issue with substance abuse and domestic violence,” Coach Medford said. “Not just Ketchikan but Alaska in general….suicide. So it’s good for them to stay involved and have self worth, and a sense of purpose and meaning. So that’s good to see. This team does not lack in self confidence at all.”