The Kenai Peninsula's Class 4A wrestling coaches have mixed feelings about having to leave the state to get to the state tournament.
The Class 4A state wrestling tournament begins Friday in Ketchikan with weigh-ins at 7 a.m. for 42 peninsula wrestlers.
In order to get to Ketchikan, the peninsula's schools will have to do a bunch of flying Thursday.
Schools will start Thursday by getting up at various degrees of earliness to catch Era Aviation flights to Anchorage. For example, Skyview coach Neldon Gardner said his team flies out of Kenai at 5 a.m., while Homer coach Chris Perk said his squad leaves Homer at 5:25 a.m.
Once in Anchorage, the schools will take an Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle. From there, the teams will fly to Ketchikan. Kenai coach Tony Prior said the arrival in Ketchikan is slated for about 4 p.m.
"I guess they call it a 'milk run,'" Prior said of the Alaska Airlines flight that starts in Seattle and makes a number of stops at Southeast cities, the first being Ketchikan.
Since Ketchikan's airport is on an island separate from the city, the teams will actually have to land and then take a ferry over to Ketchikan.
"Milk run" is a term common to people who fly in Southeast. Coaches are hoping they don't have to learn much about another common term -- "overhead."
"Overhead" is when an airport, like Ketchikan's, has lousy weather and the plane must bypass the weathered-in airport and move on to the next city.
Should that happen, the teams could land in Juneau and possibly catch a flight to Ketchikan later in the day.
"I've heard the airport in Ketchikan can be hard to get into," Skyview coach Neldon Gardner said. "We could get weathered out. I'm not sure what they'd do if one-third of the entrants in the state wrestling tournament couldn't get there on time."
Gardner said the peninsula schools were forced to cut their arrival a little close. When it was announced Ketchikan would host the state tournament, Gardner said other schools immediately booked up flights to Ketchikan today. This left the peninsula's schools no choice but to fly Thursday.
Gardner's team is considered one of the favorites to win state after taking the Region III wrestling tournament Saturday. The coach is doing his best to make sure the travel doesn't take a toll on his team.
"A big problem with kids these days is that they get deprived of sleep," Gardner said. "We've told them that if we're leaving at 4 a.m. Thursday, they have to get to bed at 7 or 8 p.m. Wednesday.
"Just lie down and close your eyes until you get to sleep."
Prior said the travel hassles will be worth it for the experience. Steven Fisher and Billy Loosli qualified for state for the Kardinals. Both moved to Kenai from the Lower 48 within the past year.
"It will be great for those guys to see a different part of the state," Prior said.
Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell disagrees. He said sports can be a great vehicle to travel and view new parts of the state. But when state titles are on the line, Truesdell isn't inclined to play tourist.
"I wish it was in Kenai like it was the past two years," Truesdell said. "We have eight seniors going to state. It's the last chance for those guys.
"They'd rather worry about getting down to business than traveling."
Truesdell said the team may do some sight-seeing Sunday, but that experience may be dampened by the travel ahead. Kenai, Soldotna and Skyview will get back to Anchorage at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, then bus back down to the central peninsula.
Homer's squad is hoping to fly home from Anchorage.
Homer's Perk, also the high school's athletic director, sees positives and negatives about the trek to Ketchikan. Ironically, Perk organized the small-schools wrestling tournament at Homer in December even though the Mariners weren't participating in that event.
"From the (athletic director) point of view, it's good Ketchikan gets to host because it's something big for Southeast," Perk said. "But the budget constraints are ugly. It's costing us $500 per person. It's a little more for us than for other peninsula schools, because we're coming from Homer.
"Hopefully, it'll be an opportunity for Ketchikan to put on a good tournament and for us to see parts of Alaska we've never seen before."
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