Basketball memories run deep in Alaska

In the fall of 2002, my husband and I attended a Pioneers of Alaska Convention dinner for 400 people in the gym of Monroe High School in Fairbanks. A Glennallen Panther banner hung on the wall along with banners from the other schools Monroe competed against. Looking at that banner instantly brought to mind several basketball memories.

When our family first moved to Glennallen in the early 1960s, the Panthers (under Coach Noonkesser) played basketball with the Monroe Rams. In those days, the traveling teams ate meals in local homes. One time, two boys came to our house. They had to have their dinner early and then be taken up to the school at a certain time. At nine years old, I didn't even know what a basketball was, but it seemed important. It wasn't until a few years later that I watched my first game.

By the time I was in 7th and 8th grades, I joined in the community feeling that the weekly winter basketball games were important activities. I played clarinet in the school band. Under Pete Lease's instruction, the Pep Band enthusiastically played marching music at all the home games during the half times. The entire student body (junior and senior high) attended half-hour pep rallies before home or away games. By this time, the Panthers no longer played Monroe. We played Tok, Delta, Nenana, Wasilla, Ninilchik and Valdez, with Valdez being one of our strongest opponents.

As a freshman, I tried out for cheerleading. Marie Barber was the advisor. I didn't make the varsity squad, or the junior varsity, but became one of two substitutes. At first I didn't realize that this position would be such a challenge, learning all the girls' positions and filling in when and where needed.

Being a substitute cheerleader got me included in two fun away weekends, one to Palmer and one to Valdez. The gyms in both these towns were gigantic compared to ours. Coming home from Valdez, the bus developed two flat tires while following the snowplow too closely through Thompson Pass in a zero visibility snowstorm. What an adventure.

That season, 1969-70, ended with our boy's varsity becoming the Class "C" Eastern Regional Champions, with Ken Sailors as coach. Excitement, school spirit, and community support were at an all time high when this title was earned in our own gym, in a close scoring, hard fought game. The gym was packed and the overflow of people watched the game on closed circuit TV in another room.

We were so proud of our Pantherettes, too. They were state champions for the 1969-70 season, having won all their games, losing none. Two years later in 1971-72, the Pantherettes beat the Dimond High girls to claim the state championship again. What an accomplishment.

My sophomore year, I was no longer a cheerleader or in the pep band, but helped the student council sell popcorn and candy. Many basketball games during my junior and senior years were considered "dates". This was one place my boyfriend (future husband, Gary) and I were allowed to go without a chaperone, or maybe we just had the whole town as chaperone.

During these years it seemed the entire community turned out for the basketball games whether they had children in school or not. Homecoming games were always packed as everyone wanted to see the crowning of the Homecoming King and Queen. And, if for some reason, a fan could not attend, all home and away games were broadcast play by play over the local KCAM radio station.

That was all back in the early 1970s. After Gary and I moved to Slana in the fall of 1999, local basketball returned to my life. Although it was too far to travel to Glennallen to attend games in person (1.5 hours each way), I found myself listening to a few games over KCAM. As I heard names familiar from 30 years earlier, I could easily picture the faces of their parents, who I'd grown up with. And, Monroe was again a school the Glennallen Panthers and Lady Panthers played against.

During the Pioneers of Alaska dinner that night over 20 years ago, sitting for the first time in the gym of the Monroe Rams, I was not surprised that my basketball memories overpowered my concentration on what the convention's keynote speaker had to say.

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at

Author Bio

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan now residing in Palmer.

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