High school football in Alaska: ‘It’s really quite an experience we have up here’

  • Written by Derek Johnson, Sports Writer

PalmermoosePhoto courtesy of Dana McGann The Palmer Moose in action during the 2012 football season. The Alaskan team hosts Woodinville in early September.The Woodinville-Palmer football game is a mere month away, as the Falcons will soon board a plane bound for Alaska to take on the Moose.

Woodinville players and coaches are certainly excited. It’s a different world than life in the Puget Sound region.  

To better understand how football is lived on the Final Frontier, the Woodinville Weekly contacted Palmer head coach Rod Christiansen. Having coached the Moose for over 20 years, he explained how rugged terrain and remoteness lead to challenges.

“Some of the schools in the southeast like Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan you have to fly to,” Christiansen said. “Up until this year Juneau has been in our conference. Even though they’re a plane ride away, there’s no way to drive there. That’s always been a spendy thing.

“We travel 300 miles to play the Fairbanks teams who are in our conference. We’re all over the place. This year we will go south to a community called Homer, which will be a 240-mile bus ride.

“So part of my job as coach is travel agent. Kind of like a college team. Part of having your team ready is answering questions like ‘where are you going to eat the night before? What are you going to do the night before?’ To coordinate what those 50 boys are going to do before the game and after the game and that kind of stuff.

“It’s really quite an experience that we have up here.”

Palmer, Alaska, is a small but growing town located in southern Alaska, about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage. Its football history, according to Christiansen, goes back to the 1950s. Its oldest and fiercest rival is 10 miles away.

“Wasilla is their name,” he said. “We always play at the end of the year in a game we call The Mayor’s Trophy, or The Potato Bowl game. Because they grow a lot of potatoes around here. It’s a traveling trophy so typically the mayor gives it away or gives it to the winning team ... Sarah Palin was the mayor of Wasilla years ago. She was out there several times at the coin toss and giving the trophy to the winning team.”

Last season, Palmer went 9-1 and didn’t lose until the state semi-finals (for the large school division, the equivalent of 4A in Washington state). The team to whom they lost, South High School, was the eventual state champion.

As for the Palmer community, it would be a mistake to assume they’re all fans of the Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s mixed,” Christiansen said with a chuckle. “We are not North Seattle! Don’t tell us the Seahawks are our team ... Particularly when you get out of Anchorage. Our community was very much a farming community. You have a lot of Minnesotans. There are a lot of Green Bay Packers fans. Lots of Vikings fans. Lots of Patriots fans. And lots of Seahawks fans too.”

But what about those obnoxious Dallas Cowboys fans?

“We have a few of those as well,” he said while laughing. “America’s Team. Whatever.”

The Woodinville-Palmer game takes place on September 6. The Falcons will fly up a couple days early.   
“I hope they get some good things lined up with their booster club so they can get out and see some things,” he said. “It will be a good experience for them.”
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