Alaska Lampon's tournament

Posted: Monday, February 10, 2003

We've all heard of the disastrous family vacation. The one where the car breaks down, the cabin leaks and all the dysfunctions of the family are amplified, creating the possibility of never having a family vacation again.

In that vein, I give you National Lampoon's Class 4A state wrestling tournament family vacation.

The vacation features a family headed by parental figures Gary Matthews, the executive director of the Alaska Schools Activities Association, and John Andrews, ASAA's director of special events.

Matthews' and Andrews' children (insert punch line here) are big brother Anchorage and Fairbanks, middle brother Kenai Peninsula and little brother Southeast.

Like any family, this one has its dysfunctions.

Family life was good until 1996, when Matthews and his employer, ASAA, decided the family needed to pick up and move to make more money.

Specifically, the brothers were all happy having their wrestling season from February to mid-April. This allowed the brothers to wrestle their friends -- the small schools.

But ASAA voted to scrap that season, in part, so the basketball season could be moved to get March Madness in the Sullivan Arena. This made it hard, and sometimes impossible, for the brothers and their friends to wrestle together.

Since then, the brothers really haven't liked parental figure Matthews much. But the brothers did their best to keep liking each other.

This changed when the family tried to plan a state wrestling vacation in 1999. Parental figure Matthews planned the vacation, but not all of the brothers liked the plan, and separate vacations ensued.

Specifically, ASAA told big-schools wrestlers that they would start their ever-moving season in the first week of October. Middle brother Kenai Peninsula and little brother Southeast weren't enthralled with this, but they were willing to make the sacrifice for the good of the family.

But big brother Anchorage and Fairbanks pitched a fit. Big brother refused to start wrestling in October. Big brother decided to take a vacation separate from little brother and middle brother. Big brother held its season in the spring instead of fall.

Family strife was adding up. The brothers didn't like parental figure Matthews. And, now, there was distrust amongst the brothers.

After a couple years of taking separate state tournament vacations, the brothers and parental figures decided to try and bury the hatchet and take another vacation together this year.

Parental figure Matthews said any of the brothers could plan the vacation, but only little brother Southeast cared enough about the family to step up and plan a vacation.

Specifically, after two years apart, the state's big schools got to have a state wrestling tournament together again this year. The only school that put in a bid to host the tournament was Southeast school Ketchikan, so Ketchikan was chosen to host.

Middle brother Kenai Peninsula knew little brother Southeast's vacation plans weren't perfect due to cost and travel, but middle brother Kenai Peninsula isn't so big and often-conceited himself, so middle brother decided to make the sacrifice for the family.

But big brother Anchorage and Fairbanks, called upon once again to make a sacrifice for the family, pitched a fit.

Specifically, Southeast hasn't hosted a state tournament since 1991, which means every state event a Southeast school has attended since 1991 has involved big travel costs. But Southeast has footed those costs and enriched state competition with elite athletes like Juneau-Douglas graduate and current Cleveland Cavalier Carlos Boozer.

But now, for the first time in over 10 years, the shoe is on the other foot. Now the rest of the state must come to Southeast. Some in Anchorage and Fairbanks didn't like this turnabout and began creating reasons why Ketchikan shouldn't host. Supporters of the Lathrop High School wrestling team in Fairbanks were among the first to threaten a boycott.

"They acted like we were a leper colony down here," Ketchikan (or is it Baghdad?) wrestling coach Rick Collins told The Associated Press.

But, complaints aside, the family vacation went on, although tensions amongst the brothers were heightened, and tensions with parental figure Matthews lingered.

Then the car broke down and the cabin leaked. And all the family dysfunction ballooned to the surface and threatened to ruin the vacation.

Specifically, Ketchikan's airport was fogged in for extended periods Wednesday and Thursday, scattering wrestlers from Anchorage to Seattle and assuring the tournament wouldn't start, as scheduled, on Friday.

Times like this call for strong, unified leadership in the family. In this case, Matthews and Andrews faltered.

Andrews, from Ketchikan, told the Peninsula Clarion Wednesday he was confident all the wrestlers could get to Ketchikan. The tournament would then start Saturday.

Also Wednesday, Matthews, from Anchorage, told the Anchorage Daily News, "Right now there is a chance we will hold the tournament in Anchorage, but I don't want to say that is a done deal."

This discord was exactly what's not needed from leadership in crisis. This error in leadership was only amplified by the brothers' long-seeded distrust of Matthews dating back to the move of 1996.

Matthews' statement about holding the tournament in Anchorage also rekindled the distrust little brother Southeast and middle brother Kenai Peninsula have of big brother Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The Juneau Empire reported the six Anchorage schools were the last of 20 participating schools to get to Ketchikan, arriving Friday night.

Big brother had failed to sacrifice for the good of the family before. Was big brother pitching another fit and conspiring with parental figure Matthews to get the tournament moved to Anchorage?

Or was this all due to circumstance? After all, the Anchorage schools had been scheduled to fly to Ketchikan Wednesday. Had the weather cooperated, Anchorage would have been among the first to Ketchikan.

But, with all the family dysfunction, it's no surprise that little brother Southeast was a little miffed at parental figure Matthews and distrustful of big brother.

"Anchorage was really trying to go for a Monday-Tuesday tournament up at Bartlett," Ketchikan's Collins told the Juneau Empire.

The state wrestling tournament family vacation finally got rolling Saturday in Ketchikan, though, allowing the family to focus on common loves of blood, sweat and cauliflower ears instead of dysfunction. Memories of the tournament, even if they include 2 1/2 days of flying, will last a lifetime.

So what now?

This state wrestling tournament family vacation has skillfully exposed the dysfunction in this family, but it also has forcefully displayed the family's common bond. Which will the family choose to follow?

Here's hoping that this disastrous vacation turns out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to the wrestling family.

This column is the opinion of Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak. Comments and criticisms can be directed to

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