John Jessen and Shelley Schroeder of Anchorage were united in marriage at the 50-yard line of the Bartlett High football field Friday afternoon.
The groom, 53, is the coach of the state champion Golden Bears football team. The bride, "a couple years younger," is a high school teacher. Both have worked at Bartlett High for 20 years.
The bride wore a blue-and-gold Bartlett shirt and loud, multicolored tie-dyed pants.
So did the groom.
The couple began dating in 2007, when the bride and her dachshund, Harley, started taking after-school walks around the football field while the team was practicing.
Players encouraged the romance. "Me and Jordan Clarke both took Miss Schroeder's marine biology class and we always hoped she would come to practice and watch us, because when she came to practice, he didn't yell at us as much," said David Garness, 28, a 2008 Bartlett graduate.
The ceremony, officiated by J.J. Jessen, the groom's son, was held on the 11th anniversary of the couple's first date. "I was working at Hope Community Resources on the weekends — I'm a teacher; I have to have two jobs — and she came over and we watched a little TV," the groom said.
The relationship advanced when the groom named a football play, "the Harley formation," after the bride's dog. "You put three of the biggest Polynesian kids up front and you just go straight through," the groom said. "I find it highly ironic that I named a formation with all these big guys after a wiener dog."
The couple became engaged earlier this year while vacationing in Hawaii during spring break. "It was free mai tai night," said the bride, who said she took a knee before she popped the question.
Plans to marry next year in Maui were scrapped a week before Friday's ceremony when the couple decided to wed in front of family, friends and football players. In less than a week, the bride took care of the arrangements. "Everything was Shelley," said the groom. "She's the Nick Saban of the marriage."
Held on a sunny, windy day in northeast Anchorage, the nuptials began with the singing of the Bartlett High fight song, followed by a Haka dance led by Simeona Tuinei, a 6-foot-3, 365-pound defensive tackle for the Golden Bears. "Coach J's like a father figure for us. He tells us at practice to be coachable and after practice to go home and be safe," Tuinei said.
A ukulele version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" played on the loudspeaker as the bride, her toenails painted the colors of the rainbow, was escorted to the 50-yard line by her father, Tom Schroeder of Homer. Attendees sitting in the bleachers rose to their feet and applauded. "You're cheering like you're from East. Give them a Bartlett hello!" marriage commissioner Jessen said.
Vows and rings were exchanged in a brief ceremony on the artificial turf. Serving as ring bearers were the bride's wiener dog, Ryder, and the groom's wiener dog, Reuben.
After exiting the football field, the couple went through a short receiving line that included Bartlett principal Sean Prince and retired Bartlett principal Dan Gallego, and then walked through an arch formed by football players.
In attendance were the bride's parents, Tom and Jean Schroeder; the groom's children, J.J. and Judy; and numerous Bartlett High faculty members, alumni and students. The bride's parents both wore a blue and gold T-shirt commemorating Bartlett's 2017 state championship. "Cheapest tuxedo I've ever had," the father of the bride said.
A private reception was held after the ceremony. The couple plans to honeymoon next spring break in Maui.
Following the ceremony, Garness, a former USC football player who lives with his family in Anchorage, texted a photo of the wedding party to Clarke, a former NCAA shot put champion who operates a gym in Georgia.
"We set him up for eternal love," the text said.