Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eagle Blue

The story of Fort Yukon
I just finished reading a book called Eagle Blue by Michael D'Orso, a story about a Native American basketball team in the interior of Alaska.  To preface what you are going to read in this post, I am going to attempt to write a book review, if you will.  I must add also that I have not done a book review in some time so this might be a little rough.  I am not a big reader, so if I am going to read a book, it has to be something that I am insanely interested in, like sports, like basketball.  So with that in mind, let me get back to the story of the team.

In this story of Fort Yukon's basketball team, we must remember the fact that they are in the interior of Alaska much further north then places we have heard of like Fairbanks, or Anchorage.  Fort Yukon, was built in World War 2 if my memory serves me correct, but if not it's not real big deal.  The Fort saw a big boom in the 1970's when oil and natural resources were found.  The money was flowing in, and there were little problems then.  That is a far cry from what it is today, outsiders have been known to call it "Fort Yuk."  

Fort Yukon marked in red.
The story focuses on the men's basketball team, and not just the actual season, but the background stories of some of the players and the coach.  The background stories of the players are critical to understanding their family situations and why they struggle to keep eligibility for the team.  Alcoholism, and drug abuse are high in the Fort, which the players have to keep away from if they want to continued to play basketball.  To say that it is an uphill battle for the players is an understatement, it is a true test and show of their character the way they perform on the court.

The book also focuses on issues that impact all Native Americans like the fact of the US government drilling for natural gas and oil on their lands.  The things the Native Americans have been fighting against the government for years.  It would be my belief that at some point, we need to leave them alone.  Let them live on their land, and go find natural gas somewhere else.  Have we not done enough to uproot them from their lands in the past?  

A third main theme of the book, has to be the fact that some people in the Fort, wish that the money was spent more on academics then on the team.  A huge chunk of the schools yearly budget is given to the basketball program.  The teams gets $20,000 from the budget to pay for basketball related activities, but it is not nearly enough.  Think about your high school, think about the teams you play, it's probably within a 20 mile radius of your high school.  The Fort has to charter airplanes to fly to away games because some of the places are too far to drive.

Not only are they chartering airplanes to get to away games.  They have to rent vans once they get to the destination, and some times drive 2 more hours because there is not a airport in the town they are playing.  They save money by sleeping in classrooms of their opponents, or in churches or other buildings if they are playing in a tournament.  Any fund raiser you can think of, they have probably done.  The Fort loves their team and would hate to see it go.

The airport, run by Coach Dave and his wife.
The coach, Dave, has pretty much brought this team from no where to the top of 1A basketball in Alaska.  To fully understand what division 1A is, is to understand the point of the book, which is that most of the teams they play are mostly made up of Native Americans.  Some school do not have enough boys to come out for the team so the girls play with the boys.  The Alaskan basketball divisions are broken down from 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A.  The Fort plays team from 2A and when they play in some of the tournaments maybe a 3A team.  

Dave has a pretty tough job from making sure that the boys are eligible to making sure they have teams to fill their schedule.  Some of the teams in 1A sometimes just do not have enough players to come out for the team and therefore they just do not have a team for that season.  Its a logistical nightmare, trying to schedule more games if a team drops out for the season.  For example, one of the teams the Fort was suppose to play dropped out, and they were forced to play a team called Anderson 4 times in a two week period.

The team.
Dave also handles all the logistics of getting the team to their away games.  This means chartering planes, the vans, where they are going to sleep and meals.  Sometimes its even a question, if it is too cold outside they might not be able to fly to the games, Dave handles that as well.  Many of the kids, parents are split up because of jobs and what not.  So, Dave has to keep the kids in line as well.  Most schools have staffs of people for this work, Dave deserves much credit for keeping the ship from sinking.

I do not want to get into the season that they discuss in the latter part of the book because if I tell you what happens then you are not going to read the book.  I think if you read the book, you should be mindful of the important themes.  It is not to say that on some level this team holds the Fort together.  Its funny how sports bring people together, and how heavily it is leaned on.  This team is very important to its community.  This is a great book, I really think you should read it if you are looking for something inspiring to read.

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