Ninilchik School gets behind musher Tim Osmar to help keep him on track

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

Cupcakes, cookies and candy bars. Familiar fare of school fund-raisers when students want to make a field trip or buy equipment.

But "Iditadogs," "chilly" dogs, "pup"corn, puppy chow, slush puppies and dog bone-shaped cookies filled the menu when Ninilchik School students turned the spotlight off themselves and focused it on local musher Tim Osmar, who began his 17th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday.

Osmar has been mushing since he was 12. He won the Junior Iditarod three of the four times he competed. He also has raced in the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, which, according to a history provided by event organizers, began because Osmar's dad, Dean, the 1984 Iditarod winner, wanted to help his son acquire the 500 miles needed to compete in the 1,049-mile Iditarod.

In 2001, the younger Osmar won the Yukon Quest, and this year he finished eighth.

Ninilchik's 2002 Invitational Basketball Tournament, held Feb. 14 through 16, offered the perfect setting for the fund-raiser. The hometown girls and boys high school teams drew attention as they played host to the Bristol Bay Angels, Palmer Moose junior varsity and the Seldovia Sea Otters. With Feb. 14 set aside for the fund-raiser, students took advantage of the standing-room-only crowd and paraded in front of the bleachers, screaming, "Hot dogs!" and "Pupcorn!"

Those spectators too busy watching the games to be distracted with snacks found it hard to pass up the opportunity to order dog booties made by the students and autographed by Osmar. Covering every base, the students also sold split-the-pot tickets, with the winnings earmarked for the musher.

The idea for the fund-raising event originated with teacher Susie Byrne and parent volunteer Cindy Schnabl.

"The (Osmar) family is in our school," Byrne said.

Tim Osmar and his wife, Tawny, have four children enrolled in Ninilchik School: Nicole, 13, David, 10, Daniel, 9 and Merissa, 5.

"They're just really nice kids, and what an opportunity for us to have a musher like that in our community."

Besides that, it allowed the kindergarten through 12th grades to do something together and find their own way to participate in the Iditarod, an event that has fans throughout the world.

"We came up with the idea separately," said Schnabl, who has three students in Ninilchik School -- Courtney, Tera and Lindsay. Because she and Byrne share the same birthday, she said, "We just sort of think alike."


Charlotte Records, fifth-and-sixth-grade teacher at Ninilchik School, and sixth-grade student Treva Evans cut pieces of blue fleece to be sewn into dog bootie that will be autographed by Osmar then sold.

"We played around with the idea and decided, 'Why not?' He's a guy from our town, his kids are in 4-H with my kids and the Osmars give so much back to this community," Schnabl said.

It wasn't hard to sell the idea to Principal Mike Wetherbee, who was bitten by the mushing bug when he taught at Kakhonak, a village near Lake Iliamna. Wetherbee has been principal at Ninilchik School for three years.

"We're trying to support the local guy," said Wetherbee, who also is planning to bring his sled and dog team to school during the Iditarod so students unfamiliar with the sport can experience the thrill firsthand.

Fund-raiser menu items were selected and, on Feb. 13, classes dove into preparations.

Schnabl began popping corn, filling tote after tote with the finished product, while students in Julie Boll's kindergarten and first-grade class decorated paper bags to hold the popped corn. A paw print of the school's mascot, a wolverine, was transformed into a dog print, complete with the school colors or blue and gold.

Heads bowed to the task as little hands cut and glued the paw prints to bags. Then came the serious task of measuring just the right amount of popcorn, with advice being passed from one student to another as bags were completed.

"This is for my daddy," said a beaming Merissa Osmar, looking up from her work.

Second-graders took on preparations for the "Iditadogs" and "chilly dogs," thanks to the oversight of teacher Pat Cruz. The classroom of desks and books took on a kitchen quality, as it filled with the smell of freshly chopped onions and the whirring sound of cheese being grated.

"As a small community, we are proud to have a well-known dog musher in our midst," Cruz said. "Sponsoring Tim shows his children and the other students our pride and community spirit."

Student Robert Self was busy learning the fine points of selling.

"He looked forward to taking money from people and had me quiz him about change," said Cruz, who helped Self prepare by testing his math skills.

Andrea Oskolkoff and Lily Vanek were more concerned with other areas of customer service. They practiced saying "thank you," "please come again" and "I hope you enjoy your hot dog."


Grahm Nolan, a first-grade student in Julie Boll's class, prepares bags of "pup"corn to sell in support of Iditarod musher Tim Osmar. A fund-raiser was held during the Ninilchik Invitational Basketball Tournament the weekend of Feb. 14.

Marina Bosick, who teaches third and fourth grade, divided among her students the tasks of making bags of "puppy chow," a people-friendly version of trail mix or "gorp."

One group put stickers of dogs onto zip-lock sandwich bags. Others combined an assortment of nuts, brightly colored M&Ms, marshmallows, pretzels and cereal. Still others put the mixture into the bags and, finally, loaded them into plastic totes.

"We don't have an Osmar in our classroom," Bosick said, "but this gives a connection that the students did something to help that musher. Everyone puts in a little effort, and it comes out to be a benefit."

She does, however, have Jason Mackey in her class. Mackey is the nephew of musher Lance Mackey, who has raced in the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, the Junior Iditarod, ran the Iditarod the first time in 2001 and is competing again this year.

"I've been mushing for two years," Jason Mackey said.

The youngster gets up every morning at 5 to tend to his four dogs and plans to be in the Junior Iditarod when he is old enough.

In Charlotte Records' fifth- and sixth-grade class, students took on the responsibility of making slush puppies and dog booties.

On one side of the room, blue fleece and brown denim were unrolled across table tops. Patterns were firmly held in place and scissors carefully followed the outline. A sewing machine sat at the ready, prepared to stitch together the fabric and Velcro bindings.

On the other side of the room, bottles of fruity flavors were inventoried, fixings for slush puppies, or snow cones.

A third group of students worked on a sign that advertised what was being offered.

The afternoon of Feb. 14 started slowly, with the crowds' attention more on basketball than food. Even a big yellow and blue sign that read, "We Love Our Musher From Ninilchik to Nome" and ran the length of a hallway didn't catch the fans' attention.

But second-grader Justin Klapak, kept the hot dogs and chili warm, knowing the crowd would eventually get hungry. He said that compared to his summer job helping his family run the Boardwalk, a restaurant on Ninilchik beach, tending the hot dog stand was easy.


Pat Cruz, a second-grade teacher, presents Tawny Osmar, Tim's wife, with a Ninilchik Wolverine patch. Time was racing in the Yukon Quest at the time, where he finished eighth. He plans to carry the patch with him as he races toward the Nome finish of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Nearby, fifth-grader Adam Byrne patiently waited to serve slush puppies and take orders for booties.

Then, with some help from their teachers, Schnabl and other parent volunteers, the students took a more aggressive sales approach. They carried bags of popcorn and trail mix into the gym and shouted up at the cheering crowds. Even Daniel Osmar got into the act, selling split-the-pot tickets.

Hands holding dollar bills went up in response, signaling for the young sellers' attention.

"When it comes in one dollar at a time, it works slowly," Schnabl said.

Self's practice counting change the day before literally paid off.

"I watched him count by tens when someone gave him dimes for a $1 hot dog," she said. "As a teacher, it was just such fun to watch him use his newfound skills. I was so proud of him."

Andrea and Lily also were able to relax after the practice they put in the day before.

"They were just fun to watch," Cruz said "They pretty much giggled their way through the whole thing. One counted the change; the other gave the money to the customer."

Sixth-grader Tera Schnabl carried a sample dog bootie around the gym, taking orders for the finished products that will carry Osmar's autograph.

During a break in the basketball-filled evening, Pat Cruz publicly presented a patch the school had made for Osmar to his wife. In the center of a dark blue circle was a paw print. Around the edges, it read, "Ninilchik Wolverines."

Osmar could not be present, since he was in the middle of the Yukon Quest at the time, but Tawny accepted the patch, giving an update on his progress in the Quest and thanking the school for its support.

"This means so much," she said.


Tera Schnabl, a fifth-grade student in Charlotte Records' class, takes orders for dog booties that the students made and Tim Osmar will autograph. The students took on different responsibilities, including handling money, in order to hold the fund-raiser.

The patch is traveling with Osmar on the Iditarod Trail from Anchorage to Nome.

Throughout the preparations and the fund-raiser, Osmar's son David contended he didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

"He's just my dad," he said.

Daughter Nicole, however, was busy with her own preparations. On Feb. 23, she competed in the Junior Iditarod, becoming the first child of a Junior Iditarod champion to run in the race. Other participants included three-time Iditarod champion Jeff King's daughter Cali, as well as Tyrell and Dallas Seavey, sons of Seward musher Mitch Seavey. Nicole placed 10th in the race.

For the students' efforts on Feb. 14, some $400 was raised. To boost that to $500, bags of popcorn were again sold Feb. 23, while Ninilchik high school basketball teams played Cook Inlet Academy.

"This just brought out the good in people," Byrne said. "It worked out so well. There was a lot of learning involved with it."

She also praised Schnabl for her involvement in school activities.

"She does a fabulous job and enjoys the fund-raising and the events," Byrne said. "We'd be in a world of hurt without her."

Schnabl focused the success back on the students.

"It was some hard work, but we had a good time and the kids learned some things," she said. "When you start kids learning to fund-raise when they're young, maybe they'll grow up to learn to help other people."

McKibben Jackinsky is a free-lance writer who lives in Ninilchik.

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