By McKibben Jackinsky
Before Christmas Day is over, the Homer High School Mariner basketball teams — boys and girls — were scheduled to head to Ketchikan for the Clark Cochrane Christmas Classic, Dec. 27-29.
“When everyone is on winter break, the varsity will be going to Ketchikan,” said Mark Casseri, head coach for the boys team. “But it’s a great tournament. The kids will get a lot of basketball in.”
Before taking to the road, the teams got to show off some of their moves and do a little fundraising at the Dec. 12 “Meet the Mariners” night. It was a great way for the public to see the teamwork and skills the boys and girls are developing. It also was an opportunity to support the boys’ fundraising effort with a $5 soup-and-bread dinner and a silent and call-out dessert auction. Proceeds for the evening were in excess of $2,500, with the boys doing the auctioneering.
While some of them were new to the art of selling, they put on a good show, peppering the bidding with challenges to their fans.
“This is my favorite dessert.”
“I made it myself.”
“You know you want it.”
“Do I hear $100?”
In more than one instance — tantalized by such treats as cinnamon rolls, cream pies, platters of cookies and jars of chocolate sauces — their crowd did offer bids of $100 and more.
Faced with big-ticket items such as travel and, in some cases, lodging, fundraising is a crucial component for a successful season. The girls team has a raffle that will kick off soon.
“Our travel expenses this year are phenomenal. Traveling to Soldotna is $500. Seward is $800. It’s expensive,” said Head Coach Connie Akers of the price just to provide bus transportation, let alone airfare.
To help cut costs, the team sleeps on the floor when they play at private schools, such as Anchorage Christian and Grace Christian, but “we can’t stay at public schools. That’s against policy.”
For families that have players on both the boys and girls teams or in more than one activity, expenses become even greater, making community support that much more important.
A supportive community is something the Mariners do not take for granted. At “Meet the Mariners,” they paid special tribune to two of their biggest fans, Gert and Floyd Seekins.
“We had kids and grandkids in the school and then we just kept on with the basketball team,” said Gert Seekins of the couple’s commitment to the Mariners that began in the 1970s and continued after their children and grandchildren were no longer at Homer High. “First, we adopted the girls basketball team as our girls. We treated them to dinner and things like that. Things can get hectic, but we always fed them one meal after a practice.”
Before long, the boys team was “crawling into our hearts, too,” said Seekins.
In addition to cheering at home games, the Seekins were on hand when the Mariners traveled to Barrow. They’ve gone along when the team went to Kodiak. They’ve been to Seward. At “Meet the Mariners,” the Seekins’ support was evident by the number of desserts they took home: three.
“We get to be with these youth and we get all these hugs. I think we get back more than we give,” said Seekins.
Casseri coached his first boys high school team in 1984 in Glennallen. After moving to the Lower 48, he coached basketball at the College of William and Mary in Virginia for three years. When he moved to Homer in 2005, his plan was to give up coaching, but was encouraged to stay involved. With the exception of one year he took off for health reasons, he’s been coaching the boys team ever since.
This year’s Mariner boys team began practicing the second week of December and meets five days a week and an occasional Saturday. The team is a young one, with only three seniors.
“We have a big junior class and a young group that’s working hard and learning really well,” said Casseri, who is assisted by Tim Daugharty.
He anticipates the Mariners are “going to be very competitive, very strong,” this weekend in Ketchikan. “They’re learning a lot, improving daily. My goal is always that we peak at region time. The regular season, it doesn’t matter what we do, but as long as we play good, we’ve got a good shot at state.”
This is Akers’ first year as the Mariner girls head coach. She is assisted by Willow Cabe. Prior to Homer High, Akers coached the Homer Middle School girls team, with assist from Merlin Cordes.
“I learned a lot from him and have a lot of respect for him,” she said, adding, “We have a good team of coaches that are willing to help each other.”
Of the 20 girls on this year’s team, 18 have played before and two are brand new. To prepare for Ketchikan and the season, Akers has been working on getting the girls to function as a team. However, it’s a bit of a “which-came-first, the chicken or the egg” challenge.
“They actually have to play together to work together,” said Akers. “ And they have to work together as a team, both offense and defense, by the time we have our first game.”
Not all the team will be traveling to Ketchikan due to injuries, illnesses and family vacations.
“We’re narrowed down to a pretty small team, so we have to set different goals based on the personnel we have,” said Akers. “Still, it will be a good experience for the girls that go and get valuable game time in and put together all the things we’ve been working on.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.