A quick search for state football championship venues around the country delivers a multitude of famed buildings and impressive locations.
It’s Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, in Massachusetts. In Texas, the Dallas Cowboys and high school athletes perform at AT&T Stadium, aka Jerry World.
You’re headed to campus in both Florida and Kentucky, where the Seminoles and Wildcats play Saturdays. These are but a few examples.
This just in — no professional — or collegiate-level football coliseum, dome or field exists in Alaska.
“You can’t help but be a little jealous,” said Alaska School Activities Association executive director Billy Strickland. “But you also can’t be at the golf course teeing off at 10 p.m. in the summer and fish for silvers in a lot of those other places.”
So, the Last Frontier has that going for it.
ASAA and Strickland hold the first two of three First National Bowl state title games Saturday at Service High on the Anchorage Hillside. The Division II and III teams play this weekend while DI squads representing the state’s largest schools play for supremacy on Friday, Oct. 22.
Like so many events, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 state tournament.
In 2019 and most years prior, Anchorage Football Stadium in Midtown hosted many championship contests. The Anchorage School District’s eight schools no longer play games at AFS. Instead, Bartlett, Chugiak, Dimond, Eagle River, East, Service, South and West play at true, on-campus homes on near-state of the art turf gridirons.
Strickland said the vast Anchorage homeless shelter across the parking lot from AFS in Sullivan Arena played a very small role in ASAA going to Service. The move simply made the most sense.
“Any championship event we run we hope to have the best venues from around the state,” Strickland said. “When it comes to Anchorage Football Stadium, we’re now at the point where facilities at our high schools are nicer.
“Especially when considering locker room space and visiting seating availability.”
Strickland estimated full-capacity crowds at state title football games have historically ranged between 5,000-6,000. Service’s stadium is more than able to accommodate those kinds of numbers. He said both Service and West were put on retainer and championship games in the future could be moved late in the calendar game so as not to offer home-field advantages.
“Parking needs, bleacher seating, lights, sound systems and scoreboards,” Strickland said. “The school settings are just superior.”
Since the football championships take place outside, no specific pandemic mitigations plans will be in place. However, Strickland and ASAA are encouraging wearing masks when social distancing isn’t doable.
ASAA’s board of directors did institute a mask mandate for indoor events during a meeting earlier this week. The swimming and diving state meet starting Nov. 5 at Bartlett High is the first ASAA-sanctioned championship where the mandate will be in effect.
“Masks will be worn by all spectators and nonplaying participants,” Strickland said. “We’re going to have these mitigations at the very least. We want students and everyone to feel comfortable while at state events.”
Alaska School Activities Association
First National Bowl Playoffs
Bartlett (5-4) at Juneau (8-1), 3 p.m.
Juneau won Sept. 18 regular-season meeting at Bartlett, 27-14
West (6-2) at East (8-1), 3 p.m.
East won Sept. 17 regular-season meeting at West, 35-21
At Service High
Bartlett-Juneau winner vs. West-East winner, 7 p.m.
At Service High
Soldotna (7-1) vs. Lathrop (7-1), 4 p.m.
Lathrop won Aug. 20 regular-season meeting at home, 27-21
At Service High
Houston (5-4) vs. Redington (9-0), Noon
Redington won Oct. 1 regular-season meeting at home, 40-6
Veteran journalist Matt Nevala can be found on social media at @MNevala9.