The high school football teams in Alaska has a problem. They’re just too far away.
Juneau, located in the state’s lower panhandle just across from Canada’s British Columbia and Yukon Territory, is one of Alaska’s most removed cities. There are very few areas of population density near the capital city, and it’s not readily accessible by traditional ground transportation.
The resulting difficulties translate to incredibly high transportation costs, both for Juneau to travel to play anyone and for any other team to reach Juneau. How high? Well, in 2016, the Thunder Mountain football team spent $66,000 to travel to football games and host other teams at its home field. Incredibly that number actually reflects significant savings on prior seasons by the team, which spent $140,000 on football travel in 2015 alone, according to KTOO Public Media.
The severe expense of football in such a remote location necessitated extreme measures, leading to an end of funding from the Juneau School District and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt as the schools are expected to refund the expenses to the district after they are incurred. Now the schools have turned to massive fundraising efforts, coupled with major efforts by the the booster clubs of both schools to help offset the exorbitant costs.
“Ninety percent of the businesses in town support both schools and they just keep giving and keep giving for every sport you can think of, every activity you can think of,” Juneau head football coach Kevin Hamrick told KTOO.
“When I started, (the program’s budget) was a negative $105,000. Recently, I believe it’s down to like $5,500.”
Juneau’s progress is a remarkable achievement, perhaps matched only by a Thunder Mountain program that had boosters alone raise more than $100,000 between 2014 and 2016.
While the struggles make playing and coaching for Thunder Bay or Juneau more difficult, it also may make their achievements even more profound and meaningful. If nothing else, it ensures that everyone surrounding the teams are deeply, deeply committed to their success and future on the field.