The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Marc Swanson
Seahawks Ski Coach 

Seahawk skiers sing state swan song


Marc Swanson | Seahawks Ski Coach

Michael Da Re, Jerry Swanson, Marc Swanson, Nick Zwiefel, Dylan Gillespie and Brooke Estes make a last stand on the podium at Kincaid Park in Anchorage during the 2014 State Nordic Ski tournament last weekend.

There were four Seahawk skiers who competed at the State finals meet this year, all veterans from past state meets. Nick Zweifel, Jerry Swanson, Brooke Estes and Dylan Gillespie formed the Seward High School phalanx with Italian exchange student Michele Da Re along as an international groupie.

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

The first day was an interval, freestyle 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 compañeros skiing 101, 105, 106 respectively with Brooke at 95th.

But to quote Paul Harvey, Sr., "And now the rest of the story."

Zweifel, Swanson and Estes are seniors and so this was to be their last crack at State. For 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 alongside, 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, and 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 big question... Why?

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 fundraised 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).

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.


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