Clarion Calls

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2010

Jeff's call: Small-town sports make big-time politicians

Much has been made of the similarity in background between Sitka mayor and Democratic Senate nominee Scott McAdams and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

As "The Mudflats" blog put it, "Alaskans have already proven that they can take a little-known small town Alaska mayor and elect them to a position of political power."

The similarities of McAdams and Palin don't stop there. Both of their political careers owe something to small-town Alaska sports. Sarah Barracuda helped take the Wasilla girls basketball team to a state title. McAdams coached football in Sitka.

The quickest way to political success in the current media age, assuming the candidate doesn't have millions of personal dollars to toss into the campaign, is to have the ability to connect with a viewership or listenership in just one interview.

Palin's remarkable ability to do this came to the fore in an early 2007 interview on "Jock of the Rock," a sports show broadcast on KMXT in Kodiak.

The interview was first pointed out to me by Jay Barrett, a former Clarion reporter now working at that station. I marveled at the way Palin used her basketball background to connect with a sports listenership. She credited sports with teaching her lessons she used to become governor.

Of course, this little-known interview had nothing to do with her eventual national success. It did show a talent that had everything to do with that success.

It was this same ability to connect that made Palin an instant political icon with her speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The most memorable line from the speech again involved sports: "I was just your average hockey mom and signed up for the PTA. I love those hockey moms. You know they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."

The joke was impromptu and brilliant, showing an uncanny knack for the national political stage, especially for an average "hockey mom" that had "signed up for the PTA."

According to, McAdams also owes some of his political career to sports. The website says McAdams is a former football player. He says he got into politics because, as the Sitka high school football coach, he had to try to get the football club recognized as a school sport by the school board.

McAdams' national rollout came Wednesday night with an interview on "The Rachel Maddow Show." It was nowhere near the smashing debut of Palin, with McAdams peppering his responses to Maddow's softball questions with "um" and "you know" an uncomfortable number of times. (Full disclosure: I say this as someone who peppers his own speech "um" and "you know" an uncomfortable number of times.)

He did have a decent joke about being the only one at the state fair wearing a tie, but it won't go down in history with the "hockey mom" crack.

A hint of stumblebumness and unpolish may be an asset to the Sitka mayor in these midterms, because Palin's brand of charm shows signs of wearing thin in the Alaska she abandoned midterm.

Palin did shepherd Joe Miller to an upset victory in the Republican Senate primary, but a Public Policy Poll of Alaska Republicans recently showed Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination for president in Alaska. This came after an uncosmic encounter of sweetness falling flat when a woman welcomed Palin to Homer with a "Worst Governor Ever" sign.

It's been a long decline for a governor who had an approval rating of as high as 93 percent in 2007. In April of this year, a Dittman Research Corp. poll had Palin at 46 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable.

McAdams and Palin have small-town mayorships and sports backgrounds in common. That's about all they have in common. And for McAdams, right now, that just might be a good thing, although McAdams would be smart to keep his distance from the national Democratic establishment just as Palin kept her distance from the state Republican establishment during her rise to governor.

Palin is still viewed favorably enough that she gave McAdams a shot by knocking Lisa Murkowski from the race in favor of Miller in a Republican primary. The big question now is whether Palin is viewed negatively enough to give McAdams another big boost in a midterm general election that promises a Republican wave across the country.

Mike's call: David on right track

Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Oliver David recruited a young team for the upcoming season -- starting Sept. 10 in Palmer -- with a plan to develop his players over the next two years. That's just what this 4-year-old franchise needs.

The first step was bringing David back for another season. He's the first coach to return for a second season in the team's history. He took over as the fourth coach in three years after Marty Quarters was fired 12 games into the 2009-10 season.

Now he's trying to build the program. Getting talented youth is a good way to do that. Just four of the 23 current Brown Bears are 20 years old. Last season, 12 of 20 players were 20-year-olds to start the season, David said during an interview prior to practice on Aug. 27.

If a majority of the 19 eligible returners come back for a second season, Kenai River's record should reflect that. With any team sport, the more a group plays together, the better they become as a unit. And with a 58-game season, the Brown Bears will have ample opportunity to jell -- something they're already doing.

"We're coming together as a team a lot quicker than last year," second-year returner Brad Duwe said. Duwe attributed the fast team bonding to Kenai River's two-week, preseason training camp.

The Brown Bears didn't have a preseason camp with a full team last season. But David wanted to make sure Kenai River got a better start to the 2010-11 campaign, and he's already seeing the benefits.

"Out of gate we are in much better shape than last year because we're all here together," he said. "The big difference is we're having a training camp with all the guys that we chose that want to be here.

"At the end of Week 1, we've seen some progress," David said.

If the Brown Bears can enter the 2011-12 season with a team full of returners under a third-year coach, they should have the most success in program history. That's how franchises are built -- retaining players for two or three seasons and recruiting talented youth to replace those that leave. Teams that are able to do this year after year are the ones that dominate, regardless of the level of play or the sport.

Mike Nesper and Jeff Helminiak work in the sports department at the Peninsula Clarion. They can be reached at

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