2009: Midnight Sun Game Inducted into Alaska Sports Hall of Fame

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November 30th, 2009

Alaska’s Sports Hall of Fame on Monday discovered what has been gospel in mushing circles the past few years.  You simply can’t get enough Mackey.

Lance Mackey, the three-time defending Iditarod champion and winner of all four of his Yukon Quest races, was one of four athletes selected to the hall of fame in a vote of noted sports writers and boosters. He’ll take his spot alongside his dad, Dick, another Iditarod champion inducted Monday, who earned his place as part the closest finish in Iditarod history, a one-second triumph over Rick Swenson in 1978 that settled the question of whether the winner was the first dog nose across the line or the first sled (it’s the nose).

Can Rick Mackey, the 1983 Iditarod champion, be far behind?

While Monday’s announcement had a distinctive Mackey tinge to it, the 2010 class was typically broad-based, including:

• Reggie Joule, the 10-time World Eskimo-Indian Olympics gold medalist and current state representative from Kotzebue. Joule set numerous records during the 1970s in graceful and grueling events such as the one-foot and two-foot high kick and won multiple gold medals in the blanket toss.

• Rosey Fletcher of Girdwood, an Olympic bronze medalist in snowboarding at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. A three-time Olympian, Fletcher, 34, was born in Soldotna but grew up in Girdwood. She also won two silvers at the world championships and collected eight World Cup wins.• Bradford Washburn of Massachusetts was the mountaineer, photographer and map maker who pioneered the popular West Buttress route up Mount McKinley used today by hundreds of climbers a year. Washburn, who died at age 96 in 2007, was the first person to ascend many Alaska peaks, including Mount Crillon, Mount Sanford, Mount Hayes and Mount Dickey. He also founded the Boston Museum of Science.

But as distinguished a group as the new inductees are, the new hall of fame moments may even be more riveting.

In addition to the closest finish ever in a 1,000-mile sled dog marathon, the race some regard as perhaps the biggest upset in Alaska sports history earned a spot. That was when Elliott Sampson of tiny Noorvik came out of nowhere to win the 1981 state high school cross country championship at Palmer’s Settlers Bay Golf Course in an era when the smallest Alaska schools competed head-to-head against the largest.

Unknown to most in Southcentral, Sampson topped a field that included Marcus Dunbar of Bartlett, who would go on to win a national indoor mile championship after running in college. Sampson died in 2005 at age 40 in Fairbanks.

“He opened doors for village kids who always kinda looked at each other like ‘We can’t compete at that level because we’re out here in the Bush and we can’t do it,'” Mike Zibell, a longtime Noorvik resident who teaches and coaches at the school, said three years ago.

Mike Janecek, the former Mat-Su cross country coach who sits on the seven-member hall of fame selection committee, saw the race.

“Along came a lanky young man, and I had no idea who he was,” Janecek said.

Soon after Sampson crossed the finish line, Janecek went up to the teenager to tell him he’d won.

“‘Yeah, I know,’ Janecek said Sampson told him. “‘And I have a cousin back home better than me.'”

Inducted in the sports event category is the Midnight Sun Baseball Game in Fairbanks, held annually by the Fairbanks Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League on the longest day of the year.

“We think this is the absolute cream of the crop,” Harlow Robinson, president of the hall of fame, said of the 2010 selections.

For most of the 1970s, Joule produced a blur of highlights at WEIO. He made a lasting mark by soaring to new heights in the blanket toss, and it’s easy to see why it’s his favorite event.

“Everybody else gets to do the work, and I get to enjoy it,” he said.

Joule is thrilled that WEIO has continued to grow and attract new generations of athletes.

“I guess the comparison I use, it would be like in the NBA,” he said. “I was of the Bob Cousy era — well before the Michael Jordans or Kobe Bryants.”

But one inductee isn’t far enough removed from his sport to do much reminiscing. Lance Mackey goes for his fifth Yukon Quest victory beginning Feb. 6 and an unprecedented fourth consecutive Iditarod championship a month later.

“If Lance retired just this minute and never did another thing in sports,” said selection panelist Lew Freeman, the author and former Daily News sports editor, “he’d still be an inductee.”

The induction ceremony will be Feb. 25 at the ConocoPhillips atrium on G Street.

Todd Dennis accepting Midnight Sun Game award

The selections were made by a committee of seven people long involved with Alaska sports. In addition, the accumulated vote of the public counts as one vote. For the past several weeks, the public has voted at the hall of fame’s Web site. About 1,200 votes were tallied, Robinson said.

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