Bulldogs take title with class

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2001

A major league shortstop leaves the organization that selected and developed him because more money is being offered elsewhere. A National Hockey League defenseman jumps ship after two decades because more glory is in the offing elsewhere.

Money and glory are time, and time again, given top priority in the sports world. Loyalty, class and remembering where you came from are only conveniences.

There are a number of reasons to be impressed with the season the Nikiski football team recently completed. The character of the team, starting with the coaching staff led by Scott Anderson, should top the list.

The Bulldogs were clearly a head above all other small-schools teams this season, trampling to their second straight state championship in a manner more convincing than John F. Kennedy oratory.

Nikiski ended up with a 9-1 record. The lone loss was to Chugiak, a school with about 1,700 more students than Nikiski, and came by just five points.

When the Bulldogs picked on schools their own size, they produced more blowouts than car dealerships around dividend time. Nikiski went 8-0 against small-schools opponents, posting six shutouts and winning by an average of 45.4 points.

While such success is good for the ego, it's usually equally hard on class. As the Bulldogs compiled week after week of results worth a chest thump or two, it was inevitable hubris would force them into a Bourqueish quest for glory, or force them, like Alex Rodriguez, to forget where they came from.

Neither happened.

In the glory-seeking realm, it wouldn't have been surprising if more than just a few Bulldogs boosters started suggesting that Nikiski should be in the playoffs with big schools rather than with small schools.

Logically, the roar would have begun after the Bulldogs dropped a 40-20 decision on big-school Service in the fourth week of the season.

Never mind that Nikiski pulled out of the big-schools Northern Lights Conference five years ago to begin the push for a separate division for small schools in the football playoffs. It was time for Nikiski to grab all the glory it could.

That roar never materialized. In fact, it was never even given the credit of a wistful whisper.

"The thing for us is we're one of the first teams that pulled out, and we're not going to be this strong every year," Anderson said the week after beating Service. "This is a once-in-every-20-year deal."

Such talk never even gained steam around the community.

"The way our community is, memories go back a long way," Anderson said. "They're still excited about winning some football games.

"They're definitely proud and excited we beat an Anchorage school, but that's as far as it goes. They can still remember a few years ago, when we didn't win any football games."

Which brings us to our next point. Before separating from the Northern Lights Conference five years ago, more often than not the Bulldogs were the punching bag for the football world.

For instance, they'd never defeated Soldotna High School until last year in the small-schools title game, and at one time took an 89-0 shellacking at the hands of the Stars.

Turnabout is fair play, right? Why shouldn't Nikiski forget what it was like to be on the wrong end of an 89-0 score, and instead be the one administering the drubbings? And why not throw a little icing on the cake with some trash talking, end-zone celebration and tiresome displays of one-upsmanship after every tackle for loss or first down?

Anderson wouldn't stand for such displays.

In postgame briefings, coaches would give the team credit for the way it got up and walked away after a big tackle, or simply flipped the ball back to the referee after a touchdown.

If a game was getting out of hand, Anderson would do things like attempt ridiculously long field goals to hold the score down.

As a result, Nikiski never defeated a team by more than 56-0 this year. They never forgot where they came from.

A 9-1 record, a state championship, a record-setting season by receiver David Holloway, a 1,000-yard campaign for running back Steve Calderwood, ferocious linebacking by Josh Reilly and a sweep of the Great Land Conference's major awards.

All these things seem important in the days after the freshly completed season. But the worth of these football skills will quickly fade. The game isn't a lifetime sport, and if most Nikiski players haven't played their last down already, surely all will be done playing five or six years from now.

What will remain from the season are things like a commitment to getting better each day, loyalty, remembering where you came from, and respect for a fellow competitor.

In that regard, Nikiski truly is champion.

This column is the opinion of Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak. His e-mail address is clarion@alaska.net.

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