Seahawks, Sports

Seahawk Skiers Compete at the Last State Meet

Four Amigos
The Four Amigos Competing at State

By Marc Swanson –

There were four that attended State this year…all veterans from past state meets: Nick Zweifel, Jerry Swanson, Brooke Estes, and Dylan Gillespie (Italian exchange student Michele Da Re came along as an international groupie.)

Whereas a few days prior ASAA was scrambling to determine whether Kincaid could actually host the meet (conditions were classified as minimal snow on top of “boiler plate ice.”)  But in the end the snow gods smiled (weakly) and tossed out several inches to allow for the meet to continue.

Brooke burning up the slope during the Friday Classic Race
Jerry sports his new aerodynamic doo to speed down the trail during the Thursday Skate Race
Jerry sports his new aerodynamic doo to speed down the trail during the Thursday Skate Race

The first day was an interval, free style race.  Nick, Jerry, and Dylan came in 97th, 101st, and 103rd respectively.  Brooke had a fine ski slipping into the 83rd slot.  The next day, the classic race, the team struggled with their coach’s wax selection with the three companeros  skiing 101, 105, 106 respectively with Brooke at 95th.

The boys wrap up their ski experience at the finish line.

That’s part of the story…. But to quote Paul Harvey, “And now the rest of the story.”

Zweifel, Swanson, and Estes are seniors and so this was to be their last crack at State.

But Gillespie, a junior,…..this will be his last State Meet as well.  The reality is that this will be the last State Meet that Seward will attend.  New rules are being instated that will all but exclude the Seahawks and other small teams like Seward.

Skiing is different from other state meets.  Instead of formally qualifying at a regional meet, current ASAA regulations invite all coaches from all teams to select State competitors from their ranks.  The result is a mish mash of a couple hundred competitors from schools all around the state with a wide range of abilities.  It’s an incredible competitive camaraderie with skiers from small schools being able to ski along side (albeit briefly) some of the best nordic skiers in the country.  In the end, time keepers are impatiently tapping their feet as the final skiers cross the line a full 20 minutes…sometimes even more… after the top competitors.  This is what is trying to be to rectified—the haphazard, inconsistency of the State competitive field.  ASAA is simply trying to use a competitive paradigm that is more like other sports.  Makes sense…right?  There’s just one question….



Does having a wide competitive field somehow negatively affect the event?   Does it somehow put top competitors in harm?  Does it somehow dilute the accomplishments of the finest skiers to compete in the same field as the equivalent to a Jamaican bobsled team?  Understand, these elite skiers meet throughout the year at events called Besh Cups.  The Besh Cups are restrictive and pits the finest skiers against one another.  The elite get their opportunity for that kind of competitive experience.

So why not leave the State Meet as truly a State Meet?  A meet where the top competitors of all the teams can come together in celebration of their sport?  We, the smaller teams, know we aren’t going to win any medal.  That isn’t why we’re there anyhow (hello?).  It’s the spectacle; it’s being part of something big and exciting.  And its intimidating.  The learning curve is huge.  Trust me.

Now this is not a case of  ‘woe is me’…ok mostly not.   But Nordic skiing by its very nature cannot be made equitable between schools.  Weather and snow are huge factors.  We’ve had more ski practices in driving rain than I’d like to remember.  Many teams have trails..sometimes lighted… within a stones throw of their schools.  Seward routinely chases snow as far away as Moose Pass. Other teams have ‘quivers of skis’, four digit wax budgets, and the coaches (sometimes designated waxers) prep the skis.  Not the Seahawks.  It’s the kids’ race…they slap the wax on their own skis.

The bottom line is this….we can not compete against most other schools.  That said, we sure enjoy competing with them.

So why should we follow the conventional paradigm of selection in a sport that resists any kind of conventional paradigm?  What is it that we are trying to value?  I would wager that the Seahawk ski program has a pretty healthy outlook of the whole thing.

Let me tell you a story that provides a different perspective.  The Seahawk perspective.

It was two years ago.  We don’t normally stay in hotels but the kids had fund raised enough to stay at the Aspen for the Soldotna Regional competition.  While at the hotel the clerk came up, said it was a pleasure having the team at the hotel, then pressed a note into my hand.  This is what the note, written to the manager from the desk attendant, said:

Please give this note to the coach in room 213.  I would like them to know how awesome they were…

SUBJECT: The Seward Ski Team

…This Ski team was on their best behavior!  They were by far the most mature, respectable, and considerate team I’ve ever dealt with here at the hotel. ….The kids were very adult about their visit here; I had a conversation or two with a few of the kids and they were very tame and well spoken….a very pleasant team.  I wish all the teams and groups we hosted here were like the Seward Ski Team.  Wow!  I am thoroughly impressed.  Really, I wish you would have been here to experience (it).

As close to the podium as the Seahawks will get
As close to the podium as the Seahawks will get

Some teams gauge their success on medals.  In my book that note said and meant more than any trip to the podium.   So Nick, Jerry, Dylan, and Brooke– in respect to your 101 , 105, 106, and 95th finishes at this, the last State Meet that Seward will attend— you’ve achieved gold in a far different form.

I couldn’t be more proud of you.




    I am dismayed to hear this may be (is?) the last state ski meet for the Seward Seahawks. I suppose ASAA is, in reality, considering efficiency of time and money, but I agree with you, Marc, excluding small schools takes the meaning out of “state meet.” Sounds like no small schools division at the state level either. Sure, the small schools may not be as fast as the more well-heeled, larger schools, but they are probably just as competitive as circumstances allow. They are there SKIING. Isn’t that what it is all about?

    As you say, participating in a state meet is being part of something bigger, and I would add that goes for everyone from first to last place. The elite skiers push everyone to perform at their best, and the slower ones model perseverance and drive. It is sad so much emphasis is put on the results of competition when there is so much more to value in the act of competing. I love that you raise this question of what it is that we value, followed by the anecdote about the Seward team that talks about having character.

    I hope that the top competitors (and their sponsors) realize that if they go on to collegiate, national, and international competition, they will have a base of support, all those people who skied with them at meets in high school. That connection goes on a long time. I hope ASAA thinks about this, and preserves this base.

  2. To be clear up front I know nothing about the Seward Ski team or any of it’s members.

    I do however find myself waiting in the hallway after swim club for my swimmer and have had no choice but to listen over the last few months to several members of this team talk to others standing in the hall that they do know. I’m an old guy so for the most part am generally ignored and believe what I’m seeing and hearing is pretty much raw, honest, information about these kids and this team.

    What I’ve overheard has been nothing but polite,respectful, young people talk about their love for their sport, how hard it’s been to get enough training in, the lengths they’ve gone to train, what they’re doing to get better as individuals and as a team and enthusiasm for their sport and pride in their participation in it. Isn’t that what high school sports is supposed to be?

    My take away was “What a great bunch of kids and what a great sport for high school kids in Alaska to engage”. I commiserated mentally with them as this has been a particularly rough year to ski in Seward but over-hearing the lengths they had gone to actually motivated me to get in the car with my (young) grand-kids to drive to where there was snow for them to get more experience this year. I would love to see them grow up and join the Seward Seahawk Cross Country Ski team and would be profoundly disappointed if they were denied participation in the larger “State” events.

    If this story is true as written (and it certainly appears to be) this is a micro version of almost everything wrong with sports in US culture. I fully agree with what’s stated above “It is sad so much emphasis is put on the results of competition when there is so much more to value in the act of competing”. Real sportswomen and men get marginalized while big money dominates and cultivates the elite, entitled athletes. I believe this ethos is completely wrong and the values it creates are ruining the quality of sporting life in this country in general and Seward in particular.

    I sincerely hope ASAA will reconsider this and if anyone wants to post names and addresses where direct comments to them might be effective please post them and I promise you a letter in support of the hard working, inspiring, young athletes who don’t know me but inspired me, a 5 and a 7 year old to get out there and “just do it” this year.
    We had a wonderful time. Thanks. Let me know if I can help.