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Olympic skier and volleyball coach claim spots in Alaska Sports Hall of Fame

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: December 8, 2017
  • Published December 7, 2017

Holly Brooks skis in the women’s 10 K classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014, at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN archive 2014)

A late-blooming skier who built a resume to match her popularity, a volleyball coach whose influence raised the level of the game across Alaska, a climber's historic ascent of the world's tallest mountain peaks and an international winter sports festival will be inducted next year in the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

Holly Brooks, a popular coach whose work inspired her to revive her racing career, is a two-time Olympic cross country skier who helped the U.S. women's ski team transform itself from participant to powerhouse on the international stage.

She was a member of a relay team whose bronze medal at a 2012 World Cup race signaled America's emergence on a scene long dominated by Scandinavians and Russians.

Virgil Hooe, the Yoda of Alaska volleyball, helps girls become better players at every gym he visits.

He enjoyed unparalleled success during a long run at Service High — one of three Anchorage high schools that won state titles with Hooe on the bench — and in 1984 he established the Midnight Sun club program that has honed the talents of players from all over the state.

In 1994, Dolly Lefever became the first American woman, and the third in history, to climb the Seven Summits — the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.

A quiet quest that didn't involve big-name sponsors or a publicity firm, Lefever bagged one peak after another during an eight-year, self-funded effort that culminated with her ascent of Australia's Mount Kosciusko in March 1994.

Since 1970, the Arctic Winter Games has drawn northern and arctic athletes to a week-long, multi-sport international competition held every two years. Dozens of sports are contested, ranging from Native games to snowshoe biathlon to basketball and hockey.

Featuring primarily high school-aged athletes, the games have been held 24 times including six times in Alaska, most recently in 2014 when they were hosted by Fairbanks.

The four inductees will be honored at a ceremony in April. Brooks and Hooe will be honored as individuals, Lefever's Seven Summits achievement will be enshrined as a moment, and the Arctic Winter Games will be honored as an event.

Holly Brooks

Brooks grew up in Washington but became a world-class skier after she moved to Anchorage to coach the West High ski team.

She was 27 and working with masters-level skiers at Alaska Pacific University when she got the bug to pursue elite-level racing in 2009. The next year, with seemingly all of Anchorage cheering for her at the Olympic Trials at Kincaid Park, she skied her way onto the Olympic team.

Having made the improbable switch from high school coach to World Cup racer, Brooks spent four years with the national team, Brooks skied in two Olympics, registered eight top-10 finishes in World Cup and World Championship races and won two national championships.

The pinnacle of her ski career came in 2012 when she helped the American women turn heads by winning a World Cup relay medal.

Brooks retired from the national team after the 2014 Winter Olympics and spent the next season competing in ski marathons. She won two races on the world loppet tour, including her second American Birkebeiner title, and finished third overall among women in the 2014-15 marathon season.

Brooks is an accomplished mountain runner who has won Seward's Mount Marathon race two times. She runs a consulting and coaching business and remains a popular figure at Alaska ski and running races.

South assistant coach Virgil Hooe addresses players during a timeout at a state championship game in 2015. (Erik Hill / ADN archive 2015)

Virgil Hooe

The architect of Alaska volleyball, Hooe has influenced thousands of players over the decades.

His Midnight Sun club program spurred the growth of volleyball throughout the state, providing exposure and instruction that has helped many girls move on to college volleyball.

Hooe has been a winner everywhere he has gone. As a head coach he won one state title at West High and 10 at Service High, and he was a key assistant coach during South's run to six state titles.

He spent the 2016 season as an assistant coach at UAA, where his daughter Morgan Hooe, an All-American setter, played four years. The Seawolves finished as the national runner-up that season.

After retiring as a high school coach two years ago, Hooe continues to share his expertise by showing up at various Anchorage high schools to run drills and demonstrate skills.

Dolly Lefever and the Seven Summits

When Lefever reached the top of Australia's Mount Kosciusko in 1994, she became one of 18 people who had scaled the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents.

Many more have accomplished the feat since, but Lefever's effort is notable because she was the first American woman — and because she did it on her own.

An Anchorage midwife, Lefever climbed when she could afford to, using her own gear and seldom using a guide. She traveled thousands and thousands of miles and spent about $55,000 over an eight-year span to achieve the feat.

Along the way, she became the first Alaska woman to climb Asia's Mount Everest, which at 29,028 feet is the world's tallest mountain. She also climbed North America's Denali (20,310), South America's Aconcagua (22,835), Africa's Kilimanjaro (19,340), Europe's Elbrus (18,510), Antarctica's Mount Vinson (16,860) and Australia's Mount Kosciusko (7,300).

Lefever was 47 when she completed the Seven Summits, getting three of them in a one-year span — Everest, Vinson and Kosciusko.

While she was in Australia for the final summit, a woman named Sandy Pittman was making a high-profile, well-funded attempt to become the first American woman to do the Seven Summits. The wife of a millionaire, Pittman had climbed everything but Everest and had attracted significant sponsorships and national media attention.

Lefever's quest came with little fanfare outside Alaska. When Lefever returned to Anchorage after her Australia climb, she contacted the American Alpine Club with news of her achievement. Pittman was still on Everest, and in fact did not reach that mountain's summit until another expedition in 1996.

Arctic Winter Games

"The Olympics of the Arctic" are held every other year in an arctic community. The 2016 games were in Greenland; the 25th edition will be next year in the Northwest Territories' South Slave region.

Former Alaska Gov. Wally Hickel was among those who founded the Arctic Winter Games. The intent was to create a friendly competition where far-north cultures could be shared and celebrated.

The Arctic Winter Games showcase athletes from northern and arctic nations. At the beginning the field included a mix of adults and teens, but for the last two decades or so it has been a gathering of primarily high school-aged athletes.

The sports range from indigenous games like the one-foot high kick and the knuckle hop, to northern-climate sports like snowshoeing, skiing and mushing, to mainstream sports like basketball and hockey.

Over the years, some 10,000 Alaskans have competed at the Arctic Winter Games.

Beth Bragg is the Anchorage Daily News sports editor and a member of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame's selection panel.

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