SHRINE GAME: Some of the best seniors in Alaska will butt heads.
By MATT TUNSETH email@example.com October 23rd, 2009 11:14 PM
When Barrow lineman Forrest Ahkiviana walked into The Dome for the first time earlier this week, he found himself looking up in wonder at the white, 87-foot-high white roof.
"I said, 'This is what the big time is like,' " said the 6-foot, 240-pound Whaler.
For the first time since opening its doors in 2007, the 174,290-square-foot inflatable sports structure will play host to its first football game when the 32nd Annual Al Aska Shrine North-South football game.
Ahkiviana is used to playing in brutal Arctic conditions in Barrow. Playing indoors will be a nice change of pace, he said.
"It's nice and warm in here," he said. "This place is mind-blowing."
Football will make its Dome debut thanks to the Shriners, who purchased two goalposts that will remain at the facility. Temporary bleachers will be brought in and placed on the field's artificial surface. Shriners public relations chairman Rodney Young said the Shriners paid $6,500 for the goal posts.
"We just wanted to bring them to the community, to have a good time," he said.
The Shrine game brings together the top high school seniors from across Alaska for a week's worth of fellowship and football that culminates in what likely will be the final football game for most of those in action. So having fun is definitely at a premium.
During a post-practice pizza party Friday, Ahkiviana said the best part of being part of the Shrine game -- besides the state-of-the-art surroundings -- is the camaraderie between players from across Alaska.
"There's just a lot of unity going around," he said.
Soldotna coach Galen Brantley, who is leading the South team, said the chance to mingle with competitors on a friendly level is what makes the Shrine game special. Brantely said he and Homer coach Cam Wyatt teamed up Thursday night for a game of mini-golf against a couple players from their respective teams. "We won by at least six strokes," Brantley said.
Brantely and Wyatt weren't on such friendly terms when their teams squared off in the semifinals of the state small-schools football championships.
"Two weeks ago we were trying to bust each other apart," Brantley said.
Today's game is free of charge for spectators. Donations will be accepted, with all proceeds going to benefit the Shriners' cause of bringing health care to Alaska's children. Young said there are currently more than 600 Alaskans under the age of 18 being treated Outside free of charge thanks to the nonprofit organization.
"There's two reasons for this game," he said. "One, to raise money for children and two, just for these kids to have a good time. For a lot of these kids this will be the last time they ever get to play football. They get to come here and form friendships with guys they've been competing against all year."
Brantley said the most difficult part of bringing players from various teams together is getting everyone on the same page in a short time frame.
"We're just trying to keep it simple," he said.
Although the game plans for today's contest are likely to be fairly simple, there will be plenty of star power on display. Alaska Offensive Player of the Year Justin Kauffman of West, Lineman of the Year Dylon Short of South and all-state quarterback Lee Jones of North Pole headline the South team. The North includes all-state running backs Jamal Hale and Cyrus Chenault of Bartlett, the state's leading receiver in East's Caleb Holley and all-state utility player Matt Jaronik of Colony.
Brantley expects a hard-hitting game that focuses on fundamentals.
"They all know how to block, they all know how to tackle," he said. "There's gonna be some mistakes, but it should be a fun game."