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Alaska Activity Programs Rebound After Earthquake

By Cody Porter on February 05, 2019 hst Print

The 7.0 earthquake that struck south central Alaska during the early morning hours of November 30 sent more than seismic ripples throughout the state. More than two months later, Alaska’s interscholastic activities community continues to feel the effects of a disaster that first left its impression at Dimond High School in Anchorage.

It was during that morning that Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) officials were in attendance at Dimond High for day two of the Mix-6 and 2A State Volleyball Championships. Among those officials was ASAA Associate Director Rus Schreckenghost, who described the chaotic scene where teams were warming up for the coed event.

“The earthquake hit at 8:29 a.m. The gymnasium floor just started to wave and buckle. Things were falling from the ceiling. Every P.E. ball that ever got caught in the rafters was coming down because there was so much shaking going on,” Schreckenghost said. “We got those kids against the wall the best we could with that many athletes on the floor and with so many coaches and spectators. We evacuated the building and, as far as volleyball goes, we were not allowed back in the building.”

As water flowed from burst pipes and buildings in need of inspection, Schreckenghost said ASAA officials quickly took to their phones hoping to find another facility to host the volleyball championships. With all Anchorage public schools and gyms closed, the private Anchorage Christian Schools was able to pass inspections and volunteered to host the tournament the next day.

Schreckenghost said teams played a shortened tournament that went long enough to determine state champions. While some consolation games were played with one set to 30 points, he added that “coaches were just happy that we found a gym to play in.”

The Anchorage School District closed all schools that Friday and the following week. Those that passed inspection didn’t reopen until two Mondays later, according to Schreckenghost. When schools returned to session after Christmas break in January, some schools’ damage was too much to overcome.

“We’ve had to move some of our elementary schools into our high schools,” Schreckenghost said. “We also have some of the high schools whose gymnasiums and buildings weren’t open after the inspection playing their home games in rival gymnasiums. We have middle schools now doubling up with high schools because the middle school didn’t survive.”

Houston Middle School and Houston High School were among the schools in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley that faced the difficult task of consolidating. Houston Middle suffered extensive damage that led to a decision by the Mat-Su Borough School District to shut down the school for the remainder of the school year. When students returned from Christmas break on January 7, they did so as students of the newly established Houston Junior-Senior High School.

“The damage to Houston Middle School was such that the school will not be re-opened and most likely will need to be torn down and a new building will go up in its place,” said David Porter, a teacher at Houston Junior-Senior High School. “The middle school has been moved to the high school for most likely the next two years. The high school’s capacity is only 500 and, with the middle school, there are over 800 kids at the school now.”

To accommodate the number of students, Porter said 13 portable classrooms were placed on site during the break.

“That was short of a miracle and the maintenance crews were working around the clock to get heat and power and video cameras up before the students got back,” Porter said. “It will be a huge challenge for sports as we only have one small gym. Both staff and administration are working together to make sure all of the kids get what they need and to continue to provide a great learning environment and have all of the activities the students enjoy being a part of.”

The athletic realm felt additional shakeups with basketball, ice hockey, Nordic skiing and wrestling. Schreckenghost said officials were fortunate that the ASAA Board of Directors met just a few days after the earthquake to discuss the impact to competition.

“Basketball for us had just started. You’re supposed to have 10 practices before you can participate in a game, so when the gyms shut down for the week, games were rescheduled to the point that no one was getting 10 practices in,” Schreckenghost said. “The Board made allowances that if the student had already started basketball that they would waive five practices so that only five practices was needed to play in games. The schedules then didn’t have to be changed.”

Ice hockey and Nordic skiing felt the unfortunate effects of facility inspection delays preventing teams from participating.

“The Board decided as soon as the buildings were cleared then we’d return to hockey action. If a game was missed, it was missed,” Schreckenghost said. “Things got to the point where even our Nordic ski was canceled because most of the waxing of skis takes place inside a large bunker or building which also had to be inspected.”

The wrestling postseason followed volleyball. Amendments made by the ASAA gave all wrestlers one additional weigh-in at the minimum weight at which they plan to wrestle during the state tournament. Wrestlers were slated to begin region tournaments on December 7 followed by the state tournament on December 14-15 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

Porter, who also serves as president of the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches, recognized the ASAA for helping teams by making changes to the rules.

“Everything was on hold. As the week went by, we realized we would not be back to practice for at least a week,” Porter said. “Our basketball team ended up playing in our first tournament with only seven days of practice. A number of schools could not get into their gyms due to the damage so when we did get the OK to start practices, we had to use other gyms.”

In the weeks since, Schreckenghost said a sense of normalcy is beginning to return. However, with a 5.2 earthquake on January 13, as well as countless aftershocks, ASAA officials and those with local school districts continue to have precautions in place if these events occur once again.

“There have been more than 300 aftershocks since the earthquake took place about five weeks ago,” Schreckenghost said. “So, the ground is still rumbling, which worries us because if another strikes, we have to turn around and go through this process all over again.”