COLUMN: A different sports culture


Around these parts football, basketball, soccer and baseball/softball seem to be the most popular high school sports.

During a recent conversation with a former Progress staff reporter and Bullard native, Caleb Vierkant, who is now a wordsmith at the Wrangell (Alaska) Sentinel, we started talking about the differences in the high school sports scene on the Alaskan Peninsula, versus what is typical in East Texas.

Wrangell is a borough of about 2,400 people — roughly the size of Bullard — that sits on the northern tip of Wrangell Island.

Of course weather conditions play a huge part in determining the prep sports scene. For example, in November, the average high in Wrangell is 41 degrees and the average low dips down to 32; quite a bit colder than what we experience around here.

Cross country is the only outdoor sport offered at Wrangell High, according to Viercant.

Vierkant said that the marquee sports in Wrangell are basketball and volleyball.

“The entire town really gets behind the basketball and volleyball teams and the attendance is really good for home games,” he said. “There isn't as much to do here as there is in Texas, so people really turn out for most of the high school sporting events.”

Although 3,100 miles apart, when it comes to prep sports, Jacksonville and Wrangell have at least one thing in common.

“Any sport a parent's kid plays in is popular here,” Vierkant said with a chuckle.

Same holds true in East Texas.

In Wrangell student-athletes from one sport are often some of the biggest supporters of another sport. Therefore, it is very common to see the swim team come out and cheer on the volleyball team, or the wrestlers rooting for the basketball teams.

That is something that doesn't happen as frequently as it should in East Texas.

With University Interscholastic League realignment coming up in Feb. 2020 in the Lone Star state, there is already talk in some quarters about possible district alignments, and travel distances is usually always a talking point at realignment time.

Compared to Wrangell, even the most challenged school, travel wise, in Texas would not have much room to complain.

Ferry rides across harbors to get to district games is a way of life in Wrangell and if a team advances to state that often means a trip by plane to Anchorage.

Sometimes extended travel costs result in fundraising events having to be established to help with the added expenses.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a foodie, so I must admit I was disappointed to learn that the concession stand fare in Wrangell is pretty similar to what is offered at our Cherokee County high school venues.

Vierkant said that the thing that stands out the most to him when comparing high school athletics in Wrangell versus East Texas is “there are not many of the stereotypical 'jock' types up here.”

He went on to say the student athletes in Wrangell seem to enjoy representing their school with pride and that it is important to them to always give their best effort, regardless of the sport that they are competing in, and to have fun.

Actually that is a pretty good thing.

A jock mentality is certainly not a requisite for success when playing with passion, school pride and wanting to experience the thrill of competition.




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