Two men known for their behind-the-scenes energy and three teams -- two known for their greatness, the other for its grace under pressure -- are the winners of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame's inaugural Directors' Awards.
Selected by Hall of Fame's eight-person Board of Directors, the winners will be honored at next month's induction ceremony. They are:
• Steve Nerland and Don Winchester, who have made significant contributions individually to Alaska sports and who jointly helped persuade the Alaska Legislature to help fund UAA's new sports arena;
• The 2011 Chugiak Mustangs football team, for its display of character after forfeiting four games and missing the playoffs because of an error by a school administrator, whose mistake allowed an ineligible player to join the team;
• The Alaska Aces hockey team and the UAA women's basketball team, whose record of continued excellence made them the men's and women's winners of the Pride of Alaska Award.
Though the winners do not become members of the Hall of Fame, they will be honored along with this year's inductees at a Feb. 28 ceremony at the Anchorage Museum.
"We've been discussing for the past year that there are activities and achievements going on, on a regular basis, that we should recognize, things that advance our goals to honor and inspire," said Rick Mystrom, a member of the Hall of Fame board.
Nerland and Winchester are winners of the Joe Floyd Award, named after the longtime Kodiak coach. The award goes to a person or group that, over a period of time, makes lasting and significant contributions to Alaska sports.
Nerland is heavily involved in American Legion baseball and was a big contributor to the development of fields at the South Anchorage Sports Complex and to the recent renovations at Mulcahy Stadium, where field and stadium upgrades benefit the Anchorage Bucs and Glacier Pilots as well as Legion teams.
Winchester has taken on the role of historian for high school sports in Anchorage and Alaska, a decade-long project organizing and compiling records and stats that had long been neglected. And he was the leading force behind the construction of Dimond's football field.
Together, the two men spent time in Juneau championing the merits of a new arena at UAA and convincing lawmakers to put up $50 million for the project.
"I describe them as manure on a Minnesota farm. They're spread all over," Mystrom said, who noted that Nerland and Winchester often met with 16 legislators a day during their trips to Juneau. "When I'm there I meet with three or four a day and I think that's pretty good."
In winning the Trajan Langdon Award for leadership, sportsmanship and inspiration, Chugiak's football team is being honored for something the Mustangs probably would rather forget about.
The Mustangs found out midway through the season that their kicker was ineligible because he was a home-schooled student enrolled in a correspondent program outside the Anchorage School District. Chugiak had to forfeit three victories the boy had played in, which doomed its playoff chances.
Yet the Mustangs persevered. On the gridiron, they beat defending state champion West and playoff-bound East. Away from the gridiron, co-captains Kody Trombley, Wayde Snell, Travis Craig and Justin Schneider showed poise while representing the team during the controversy, with Trombley becoming the face and voice of the team at school board meetings and appeals hearings, always delivering compassionate, rational and articulate speeches on behalf of his team.
And every step of the way, they embraced their ineligible teammate, insisting that he join them on the sideline for games even if he couldn't play.
"Everyone talked about the adversity -- we'll, you've got adversity the first day you walk into (two-a-day practices)," Chugiak coach Duncan Shackleford said. "This was about character and integrity and how young men should conduct themselves.
"...To have the award named after Trajan -- that's pretty darn slick," he added, acknowledging the former East High basketball star who went on to star at Duke in college and in Europe as a pro, and is universally acknowledged as a class act who shined academically, never gave into his ego and continues to be generous with his time.
The Pride of Alaska Awards will be given annually to a male athlete or team and a female athlete or team that has excelled competitively. And in the last few years, no teams have excelled like the Aces and the UAA women.
The Aces won last season's Kelly Cup as champions of the ECHL, their second Cup victory in six seasons and their third appearance in the Finals over the same stretch.
Last year, they won both the regular-season title and the Kelly Cup title, and this season they have won 80 percent of their games and are on pace to surpass their 2006 club record for most points compiled in a single season.
The UAA women appear headed to their sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance under the direction of six-year coach Tim Moser. In that span the Seawolves have won four Great Alaska Shootout championships while playing against Division I teams and they have advanced to two Division II Final Fours.
This week they begin a four-game home stretch at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, where they are an impressive 82-5.
The Directors' Awards will be presented annually in conjunction with the ceremony that honors Hall of Fame inductees, Mystrom said.
"In this case, all the winners are Anchorage choices, and we were aware of that fact," he said, "but we will be looking statewide to find these winners."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335. She is a member of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame selection committee.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News
Alaska Dispatch Publishing