WHITE MOUNTAIN, Alaska — Basketball teams from around the region clashed on the court this weekend at White Mountain’s annual tournament. After 31 years, organizers say the competition has never been better.
“So it’s 8:30 a.m. right now, and we have a full day of basketball ahead of us here in White Mountain, Alaska,” said Irving Ashenfelter.
Ashenfelter is the director of the Robert “Putto” Charles Memorial Basketball Tournament. He’s also a referee, score-keeper, and player. That means he’s in the gym before anyone else arrives, and he’s there after everyone else has gone home. It’s a lot of work, but he says it’s worth it to see such good basketball.
“The level of athleticism these days is pretty dang awesome,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more teams bringing the competitiveness to another level that we haven’t seen here in White Mountain for a long time. It’s just phenomenal.”
This weekend, that phenomenal play led to a lot of close games and come-from-behind victories. The most dramatic, perhaps, was the Elim men’s defeat of Brevig Mission in the final 15 seconds of the fourth round.
For Ashenfelter, though, it’s the women’s bracket that has really stood out.
“It was usually, in the past, that the men would bring along their significant others, and they’d form a team. But now we’ve got women that are bringing the team. And the men are tagging along sometimes,” he said.
Weezer Walcott played in her first White Mountain tournament 10 years ago. She said the women’s games have gotten more intense, especially in the last few seasons. Her team, Beah’s, is from Nome and Unalakleet. They battled back from a first-round loss to reach the semifinal.
“We’ve played together for a couple of seasons now, and we’re handling the ball better in pressure situations when the game’s close at the end,” said Walcott. “If we do lose, we’re not losing by 20 or 25 points anymore. It’s a pretty close game.”
With White Mountain’s tournament all wrapped up, the next game for many players will come during the Iditarod Basketball Classic in Nome in March.
In the women’s tournament, RJ’s Ninjas won for the second year in a row after defeating Ernie’s SKK Ladies, 81 to 76. Last year’s men’s champion also repeated: CNC Sherman beat Golovin Irene A’s, 106 to 95.