Ebba Paniptchuk cackled as she pointed down the line, doing a roll call of each of her friends — the “Golden Girls” — sitting in the front row.
“Rose, Blanche, Sophia,” she announced as she listed off the characters from the iconic 1980s sitcom. The group of Shaktoolik girls high school basketball fans and elders started calling themselves the Golden Girls on Wednesday afternoon at the Alaska Airlines Center. Of course, that meant Paniptchuk had assumed the role of Dorothy.
The lively group was hard to miss on the opening day of Alaska’s 1A state basketball tournament. They alternately surged from their seats, raised their arms in elation and yelled at the top of their lungs as their Wolverines defeated the Akiuk Grizzlies, a team from the Western Alaska village of Kasigluk.
The members of the Golden Girls — Edna Savetilik, Matilda Hardy, Glenda Toshavik and Paniptchuk — arrived in town Tuesday from Shaktoolik, on the coast of the Bering Sea in Northwest Alaska.
Savetilik had plenty to cheer for. She has four granddaughters playing on the team. Eighth-grade twins Leah Savetilik and Lauren Savetilik, freshman Madison Katchatag and junior Naomi Savetilik.
“We support our kids in anything that they do,” Edna Savetilik said.
The Golden Girls weren’t alone as there was a large and loud contingent of fans cheering on the Wolverines. But Katchatag laughed as she admitted to hearing her grandmother’s shouts above the constant roar.
“I love how she gives us that support and is there for us,” Katchatag said.
Katchatag wasn’t the only one who noticed her grandmother’s cheering — Edna Savetilik was given the fan of the game award at the arena after the final horn sounded.
Although Shaktoolik pulled away in the second half for a 67-29 win, at halftime the game was still quite competitive at 31-23.
“I’m sweating,” admitted Hardy.
Edna Savetilik concurred: “So am I.”
Basketball is a major facet of life in Shaktoolik. The Little Dribblers program allows kids to get involved at a young age. And while the high school season runs through much of the winter, there are kids playing constantly on baskets at houses in the village, Hardy said.
“Even through the summer,” she said. “It goes all summer long. The season never ends.”
As the tournament’s No. 2 seed, the Wolverines are expected to be a title contender this year. But the quartet of fans believe the team will only get better in coming years.
“There are only two seniors this year,” Toshavik said. “The rest of them are young yet and we’ve got another even younger group (coming up).”
The fans are constants at regular-season games and some even traveled to Stebbins for the regional tournament, which the Shaktoolik girls won to advance to state.
Paniptchuk has family connections to the team as well. The girls coach, Stacey Paniptchuk, is her daughter-in-law and her son Silas Paniptchuk coaches the boys.
And while the future is bright for the Shaktoolik girls, the Golden Girls believe their time is now.
“If they keep playing good like they are now, they can go all the way,” Edna Savetilik said.