Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 6:02 PM on Wednesday, October 19, 2011

'Big game' about more than football

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


There was no ignoring the strength of the Homer High School Mariner fan base Saturday. In spite of rain and cold temperatures, the bleachers shook and the air was filled with roaring cheers as the Mariners took on the Kenai Kardinals at the 2011 First National Bowl Football Championships at Chugiak High School.

"It was so loud at points that we couldn't hear the quarterback in the huddle," said Frank Hoss, Mariner team captain and running back. "It was crazy."

The excitement began building earlier in the week, with Head Coach Cam Wyatt receiving a flood of text messages and phone calls from in and out of state. A banner hanging in front of Sweet Berries declared Mariner support. A sign on the side of Beluga Lake Lodge read, "Go Mariners."

"In the grocery store on Wednesday morning, it was the talk of the town," said Wyatt of Homer's first trip to the state championship. Last week was spent getting the team mentally prepared for the challenge ahead. "They've never been (to the state championship) before. It's more than getting physically prepared."


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer NewsPhoto provided

Cheering on the Mariners at Saturday's game in Chugiak were, back row from left, Valerie Mastolier, Goldie Shealy, Sarah D'Water and Georgina Guarin; front row from left, Judy Merrill, Leona Alexander, Lara Fleenor and Halle Sinn.

Within Homer High School, excitement reached a fever pitch Friday during a pep rally at the end of the day. Athletic director Pam Newton drew attention to 27 honor choir members selected for the borough honor choir and two band members selected for the all-state band. Mariner wrestlers were competing in Houston. The school's swim and dive teams were at regions in Palmer. The Lady Mariners volleyball squad was set to play Palmer and Colony. Cheerleaders cheered. The school's kazoo marching band blew out a rousing arrangement of "Anchors Aweigh."

And the football team asked for the school's support as it headed to Chugiak.

Early Saturday morning, a police escort, complete with flashing lights, cleared the way for a bus carrying the football team, managers, coaches and chaperones as it left Homer and headed north.

More than 200 miles from home, word of the Mariners had spread. As Wyatt's wife, Becky, shopped at an Anchorage farmers' market while the football team warmed up at the AT&T Sports Pavilion prior to Saturday's game, vendors offered the team good wishes.

"It's the American dream of the underdog persevering, facing the odds. I just think people like to root for that," said Coach Wyatt.

With his mind on Saturday night's game, Wyatt considered a bigger picture, how students' involvement in activities impacts other areas of life.

"Regardless of the outcome, can the kids take this positive energy and translate it back into the classroom? Can we capture it and move it forward? ... The topic is football, but they are making decisions now that will hopefully shape decisions they make throughout their lives."

Before leaving the sports pavilion, Wyatt had advice for the team ending with, "Win or lose, we will go back to the hotel and celebrate what we've achieved."

As time for Homer's game with Kenai drew near, vehicles covered in writing reflecting a strong Mariner bias began filling the Chugiak parking lot.

Across the back of a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Jim Kingrey was the message, "Go Homer Mariners! Go Big Blue."

"We're here for Skylar," said Kingrey, referring to his football-playing son, as Kingrey and his other son, Hunter, headed toward the stadium.

A sea of familiar faces filled the crowd at Chugiak's Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium. Chip Duggan, owner of Glacier Drive In Café, leaned on a sideline fence. Christie Hill and her daughter, McKenzie, waved a "Homer Mariners rock" sign. Mariner wrestling coach Chris Perk signaled a thumbs-up. Blue and gold jackets. Blue and gold neck scarves. Blue and gold foam hands giving the No. 1 sign.

Before the Mariners burst onto the field, cheering had become so thunderous KBBI News Director Aaron Selbig was forced to turn his microphone volume down.

When Kenai made one touchdown and then a second, Homer fans united in a roaring chant of, "Defense!" When Mariner Robin Glosser scored a touchdown and narrowed the gap between Homer and Kenai, the bleachers shook with the fans' excitement.

Homer resident Angela McKinney kept her son, Chase, who played for the Mariners from 2001-2003 and now lives in Washington state, up to date on what was happening.

Others used cell phones to text photos and send messages about the game.

With little more than seven minutes of the game remaining and Kenai ahead, Mariner Dyllan Day scored Homer's second touchdown and the crowd went wild.

Although a final score of 26-14 had Homer in second place, the blue and gold cheering section was faithful to the end. A bit hoarse but still enthusiastic, they kept the volume high, giving shouts of praise when the Mariners received the runners-up trophy.

The Mariners also received the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Academic Achievement award for the highest combined grade point average in medium-school football. That presentation drew more cheers.

Sunday, back in Homer, excitement over the state championship game was still evident.

"I live 25 miles out of town so I miss a social life," said Donna Graham, a Safeway employee.

"But I watched the game on Channel 4 and I'm still excited. Even if the Mariners lost, at least they tried. They kept going. They did their best."

Wyatt has a phrase for that kind of far-reaching support.

"For lack of a better term, I call it 'Mariner nation,'" said Wyatt.