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Kardinals find pretty perch in national publication

Attention from magazine flatters some; misrepresentation ruffles feathers in others

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2000

Normally, Kenai Central High School coach Jim Beeson doesn't take time out of his busy schedule to read magazines until the weekend.

This week was an exception.

Beeson opened the much-anticipated Oct. 30, 2000, issue of Sports Illustrated early Friday afternoon to learn that the national sports publication had devoted three pages of pictures and text to his Kardinals.

Considering the Mike Tyson-Andrew Golota fight and the Kansas City Chiefs' upset victory over the St. Louis Rams received just two pages each in the same issue, the attention was pretty flattering to Beeson.

"They called again Sunday (Oct. 22) and talked to my wife and she said it was going to be in this week," Beeson said. "I looked at the list of all the articles in the front when I got it and it wasn't there.

"I figured that maybe it was coming out next week."

The article wasn't in the table of contents because it was in SI's Scorecard section. Beeson learned this Friday afternoon and dug in.

The article is titled "Huddling in the Cold: In Alaska the season starts -- and finishes -- early, so the fans hurry up and cheer."

The piece was written by SI reporter Kelley King, who didn't come to the peninsula but conducted interviews by phone, and photographed by Rich Frishman, a Seattle freelancer who spent a week here in late September.

King points out many of the oddities involved in Alaska football, such as the fact that the sport plays second fiddle to hunting and fishing for some, and that Alaska is forced into an early and short football season by cold, snow and lack of light.

The central peninsula was buzzing about the article Thursday and Friday. As is the case when insiders are examined from an outsider's perspective, some parts of the artcile rubbed residents the wrong way.

One customer at Kaladi Brothers Friday went so far as to call the article a "crock," while others basked in the national attention heaped on the school of about 500 students.

Some information in the article, such as the assertion that by Thanksgiving daylight here is five hours, is just plain wrong. Daylight on Thanksgiving will be 6 hours, 46 minutes.

Beeson said other information in the article is true in extreme cases, but not all of the time. The article says snow covers the football fields eight months a year and subzero windchills come by the end of September.

Weather data collected at the Kenai Municipal Airport indicates this is not the norm. The average September temperature is 46 degrees, while snow usually comes in late October and is gone by early May.

"It can get pretty cold by the end of the season," said Beeson, who has coached the Kardinals for 11 years. "I can also remember one year where we had to plow snow off the football field."

Another part in the article says sport, like hunting, trapping and fishing, is king here while sports, with the exception of basketball, is an afterthought.

Beeson said hockey and baseball were obviously pretty big sports here as well, but he also said the idea of sports being an afterthought is true in some cases.

He said he loses four or five kids a year due to their desire to hunt.

"It's not the case so much anymore, but when I first got here we also lost a lot of kids to fishing," Beeson said. "When they're making $15,000 in six weeks at a beach site, it's pretty hard to convince them to play football."

The article also said most of the players' fathers were employed in either commercial fishing or oil. In fact, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is the largest employer on the peninsula. Overall, one worker in four on the peninsula draws a government paycheck of some type.

"The majority of the kids' parents aren't employed by oil or fishing," said Beeson, a teacher. "But most of the jobs around here, including mine, are a direct result of the oil industry."

The fact that about three-quarters of the state's budget comes from the oil industry is well-known in Alaska. Further, in 1999 eight of the top 10 Kenai Peninsula Borough taxpayers were pipeline or oil and gas companies.

The article also got the conference Kenai plays in wrong, calling it the Northern Light Conference and not the Northern Lights Conference.

It also fell victim to Beeson's old trick of listing weights and heights on rosters as much smaller than they actually are. The article said the only Kenai player over 200 pounds is Eric Purugganan, when a couple other Kardinals, like Dane Myers, easily come in over two bills.

"(Assistant coach Ken) Roser and I usually just sit down and make those things up," Beeson said. "My old coach in high school used to tell me it was a good way to get the other team thinking they were going to beat you up.

"That's one thing where you can definitely tell the person who wrote the article wasn't up here."

The package included six pictures by Frishman.

"I thought the pictures were really good," Beeson said. "The picture of the players with the bonfire in the background was nice.

"I also like the one on the (Kenai) River of catching a fish with the players."

Beeson said his players normally wouldn't be wearing football jerseys while fishing on the river, but said it is common for him to wet a line, or net, with his charges.

"One of the kids I had a few years ago had a boat, and we'd always go out dipnetting and fishing together," he said.

Overall, the coach said it was a great experience for his team and family. There is a picture of two of his four children playing at a Kenai practice that he said he will always remember. He also came away impressed with the courteousness and professionalism of Frishman.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal," Beeson said.



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