At the 2013 large school state championship football game in Alaska, a crew had to use plastic shovels to clear the field of snow. It was between 15 and 20 degrees, Alaska high school sports administrator Isaiah Vreeman said, and it started snowing again after the field was cleaned.
It’s just part of high school football in Alaska, along with the often picturesque settings.
Football starts and ends earlier in Alaska than most states. This year, practices kicked off July 29 and the large-school state championship is Oct. 23. Season openers are this weekend in Alaska, highlighted by what is being billed as “The Game of the Century,” as medium school state champion Soldotna faces large school state champion South Anchorage.
Soldotna, which is the three-time defending medium school champ, has won 29 consecutive games, equal to the state record. Soldotna also won 29 in a row from 2007 to 2009 and East Anchorage won 20 in a row from 1985 to 1987.
While some teams in Hawaii began play last week, the state championship in Hawaii is in mid-November, almost a full month after Alaska’s.
For obvious reasons, weather helps determine the schedule along with the lack of indoor facilities. The shorter season has some drawbacks for players.
“We don’t have any indoor football facilities anywhere so we don’t want to play in a lot of sub-zero temperatures or temperature in the teens,” Vreeman said. “So we need to be done with football by the end of October.”
July 29 was the earliest the state athletic association could get teams to get going, Vreeman said, because the popular Alaska fishing season goes into July. But the temperatures don’t dip in the summer, and while the heat doesn’t reach levels of some southern states, coaches still have to be aware of players’ health.
In addition to the earlier starts, 11 games happen before the season ends, which can restrict the exposure of some of the better players in the state. The athletic association encourages cross-training with other sports, Vreeman said, so wrestling and basketball seasons begin when other states are still in football regular seasons.
“The teams in the lower 48 have a little more contact with those kids on a year-round basis,” Vreeman said.
On the occasion Alaska schools travel to the lower 48 states for a game, they’re already well into their season when another team is typically just getting underway. For example, Wasila High School plays Saturday against Service (Anchorage). They’ll play three games before September even starts.
Alaska is separated from the lower 48 both literally and procedurally. But regardless, another season in America’s coldest state will get underway this weekend as it’s on the clock to finish before the snow comes falling down.