After defeating Walter Northway 40-37 in the opening round of the Alaska 1A basketball tournament on Wednesday, the Shishmaref girls basketball team enjoyed a celebratory meal.
But when they returned to their van in the parking lot, they found the driver’s side window shattered, and some of their belongings were missing.
Team members and parents said among the items were cash, a couple of players’ backpacks and head coach Curtis Nayokpuk’s bag that included some tools of the trade like a clipboard. But most important to the team’s current situation was a bag of uniforms that had been taken.
It sent the team on a nearly 24-hour quest to find uniforms before its quarterfinal matchup with tournament’s top seed Lumen Christi on Thursday evening.
The team’s jerseys were new this season, and Nayokpuk said the team’s old jerseys were being shipped to Anchorage and might be used in future games this weekend. But they wouldn’t likely arrive soon enough for Thursday’s matchup.
Other options were initially considered, including using a set of the Shishmaref boys jerseys. But instead of having home and away uniforms, the boys’ were reversible, meaning they only needed one set and had no extras to spare.
He said multiple schools offered their jerseys for use, including teams from Wasilla and Palmer. In the end, the team ended up wearing uniforms from Service High’s girls team in Anchorage.
While they weren’t the green-and-black uniforms that Shishmaref fans would recognize, the white Service jerseys with green-and-yellow trim were a reasonable approximation.
“We were scrambling to figure out which jerseys to use and the girls picked Service,” he said. “They liked those the best.”
That solved part of the immediate problem. But seniors Vicki Olanna and Autumn Barr were both left without shoes after their bags were taken in the incident.
Dennis Davis, whose daughter Makayla Nayokpuk plays on the team, donated $300 to help the players get new shoes. There were also funds raised on Facebook by friends and family for the team.
Makayla Nayokpuk made a trip to the van right before the break-in, leaving her shaken, according to Davis.
“She was kind of shook up, you know, last night because she went to the van like right before that happened,” he said. “I mean, you never know what could happen.”
Curtis Nayokpuk said the van was within eyeshot of where the group was sitting, but they were too busy enjoying each other’s company and wouldn’t have noticed a break-in.
The shattered window caused more headaches for the team, which had to swap the van for a fully functioning vehicle. The whole event definitely stuck with the team from Shishmaref, the Northwest Alaska community on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea.
“They’re a little shocked,” Curtis Nayokpuk said. “I try to keep them upbeat and try to keep them happy.”
But the outpouring of support has been overwhelming as well. Before Thursday’s game, the Lumen Christi team met their opponents with a large cache of snacks.
The players said it felt odd to put on the uniforms before the game, but the incident brought them closer. And for the team that usually plays as the Northern Lights, players said it was fun to be an animal for a game. Service High’s mascot is the Cougars.
Shishmaref lost the quarterfinal game 32-24 but said their memories of the tournament will be of generosity, not defeat.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re at in Alaska,” Davis said. “I mean, everybody’s, you know, calling and trying to figure out where they can donate or help or, you know.
“Alaska is the biggest state, but it’s the smallest state at the same time.”
(ADN and Arctic Sounder reporter Alena Naiden contributed to this report)