High School Sports

An 89-foot fishing tender helped Haines’ wrestling team reach the state tournament in Anchorage

The Haines wrestling team hadn’t even arrived at the state tournament yet, and it already had its back to the mat: Pinned down by a blizzard and unable to leave Haines, the Glacier Bears were in jeopardy of being disqualified from competing at state.

But a local fishing boat owner offered to get the team to Juneau and, despite some choppy seas, helped deliver the Haines team to state.

The Glacier Bears had an excellent day Friday, qualifying five wrestlers for the semifinals and four into Saturday’s championship round.

“It was a rough ride, but we made it,” said junior Dalton Henry, who advanced to the finals at 160 pounds. “We were able to get here, and that’s all that really matters.”

With ferries not operating this week, the team from Southeast had planned to drive the winding 750-mile route from Haines to Anchorage to arrive at this weekend’s Alaska State Wrestling Tournament.

But as conditions worsened Wednesday with snow and intense winds and the forecast grew more grim, Glacier Bears coach Andus Hale began seeking out other travel options. And those options were no more promising.

The high winds meant commercial flights were grounded. Chartering a boat was a possibility but would come at great cost.


“We were trying everything, you know — we tried Coastal Helicopters, we tried Temsco (Helicopters),” Hale said. “They both had the same answer, they were willing to try, but it had to wait till (Thursday) morning to see how the winds were.”

There was still a chance that the team bus could drive if the blizzard ceased and plow trucks could clear the snow.

“Our athletic director went ahead and said, ‘You know, if a truck comes down from B.C. or Yukon Territory, they’re going to turn around and go back up, and that’s when we want to get behind it,’” Hale said. “So she went ahead and gave the OK for us to go up the highway and take a look and wait.”

That trip to Canadian customs didn’t yield an opportunity for passage, so the team was back to the drawing board.

“It was a bummer,” said senior Jackson Long, who wrestles at 215 pounds. “Most of everyone’s parents were planning to drive with us. So we were going to have 20-30 people here and that was falling apart, and all the parents are giving ideas and the kids are just sitting back like, ‘I hope this happens.’”

As their options dwindled, there was a chance the Haines wrestling team wouldn’t make the trip. ASAA officials told Hale if the team arrived late, they would offer to disqualify the wrestlers in the opening round and let them continue to compete in the consolation bracket.

It would have been better than staying home but still a blow for any of the team’s seven wrestlers with championship aspirations.

“That would have been painful, especially for two senior captains,” Hale said. “You know, you don’t get another shot at this at that age. We’ve got two juniors, the rest are sophomores. So even that would be painful, but at least they have a chance next year.”

But just as the team appeared to be running out of possibilities, a local hero appeared.

Brent Crowe, whose son is an eighth-grade wrestler in Haines, heard about the team’s difficulties. He offered to shuttle the team to Juneau on the Pavlov, his 89-foot tender. The team got the OK from school administrators and took the trip overnight into Thursday morning.

Winds were still high but the team and coaches left around 6 p.m., traveling overnight in what was about a 12-hour voyage. The Pavlov encountered some high winds and 6- to 7-foot waves, and one wrestler experienced a little seasickness, according to Hale, but the team made it to Juneau in time to catch a flight.

The squad was even helped by an old deckhand — 171-pound senior wrestler Leo Wald, who had worked on the boat the previous summer.

“He was working the lines,” Hale said with a laugh. “He jumped right to it. Once things got rockin’ and rollin’, he slipped into the kitchen and was tucking everything away. It was nice to have him on board.”

After a slight delay on the flight from Juneau to Anchorage, the team arrived in time to weigh in and get in a practice, and for Hale to attend the mandatory coaches meeting Thursday night.

With just seven wrestlers, more than half of the team made the final round. Wald won an 8-5 decision to reach Saturday’s title match. He was joined by Henry, 145-pounder Nolan Wald and 112-pounder Hayden Jimenez as Glacier Bears who reached the finals. Long reached the semis on Friday night but was forced to withdraw due to an in-match injury.

“I’m extremely pleased with them, and I have (been) all year,” Long said. “They hunt and fish together. They’ve been together all their lives, basically. They just fuel each other. They talk each other up and compete against each other too, so it’s a healthy team framework that’s been established, and we just try to keep going in that direction.”

In the end, even though the weather caused some headaches, the boat ride complete with beds for most of the wrestlers was better than what was potentially a 14-hour drive through Canada and back into Alaska.

“I mean, it definitely complicated things,” Leo Wald said. “I feel like in the end, it was better than driving. That’s a really long ride.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.