Eagle Blue: a team, a tribe, and a high school basketball season in Arctic Alaska
By Michael D’Orso
This is the basketball team from Fort Yukon.
They live eight miles above the Arctic Circle. There are no roads leading to their village. Some of their families have to deal with poverty, alcoholism, and violence. One of the players says Fort Yukon is like a bucket of crabs: "If one crab gets a claw-hold on the edge... and starts to pull itself out, the others will reach up and grab it and pull it back down."
But they’ve got a coach who won’t quit and when these boys get onto the court, all the rest of it just goes away. It’s a great story about an underdog team, the unusual life they lead and the great basketball games they play.
It’s Eagle Blue: a team, a tribe, and a high school basketball season in Arctic Alaska
(Booktalk by Kirsten Edwards, King County Library System)
Fort Yukon Alaska was a beaten down place. A town where the native culture had fallen apart to be replaced by shrink-wrapped food, television, snowmobiles, and alcohol—lots of alcohol. Families were in various stages of disintegration, and kids felt they had little or no future. That was Fort Yukon when Dave Bridges took over coaching the high school basketball team, the Fort Yukon Eagles.
He turned the team around with his emphasis the on basics: team work, sharing, and a crushing defense that simply wore their opponents down. These were the same traditional values that had made “The People”, the Athabascan natives who lived in Fort Yukon, a once proud nation. For six straight years the team had won the regional basketball finals and gone to the state tournament. Last year they made it to the 1A state finals
For Fort Yukon’s boys, whose lives at home and in the classroom were constantly subject to disruption, the basketball team become the one place in town where they could work hard and be successful.
For senior Matt Shewfelt, whose father and brother had played on older Eagles teams, this was a last chance for family glory, a last chance to play a game he loved before he entered an uncertain adult world. This year Matt will be the Eagles captain--the senior on whose slim shoulders the hopes of “The People” would be carried.
The team was a source of pride for the people of Fort Yukon, and in this community that was very important. In the long dark Fort Yukon winter, the one thing people looked forward to was the basketball season.
Coach Bridges left the first practice that winter of 2004 unable to contain his excitement. Eleven boys had shown up, more then had ever turned out for a first practice. He knew some would not return. But no matter what, he would have a full squad this season, and it would be a very good team. This just might be it, the team he had been waiting for, the team the whole town had dreamed of. This just might be the year the Fort Yukon Eagles go all the way.
Eagle Blue: A Team, and A Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska by Michael D’Orso
(Booktalk by Tom Reynolds, Sno-Isle Regional Library System)
This true story, set in the snowbound Alaskan village of Fort Yukon reveals how basketball can intensify the spirit of pride. Although tribal heritage has been beaten down by drugs or domestic violence , many generations celebrate success on the court with six consecutive regional championships.
Typical of many isolated Alaskan communities, the main transportation is by plane. These added expenses for all competing teams becomes a community funding effort. Temperatures in negative numbers can cancel a flight and force a loss by default.
Many voices narrate the quest for the ultimate state championship, from the nonnative coach, to family and fans of the team. Descriptions of games played crackle with intense immediacy.
(Booktalk by Lyla Anderson)
Last Updated: May 14, 2008