Ronan’s men’s and women’s basketball teams had the experience of a lifetime playing in the Alaska Airlines Classic last week. Not only did the Chiefs and Maidens become the first Montana teams to play and win in Alaska in the tournament, but he put in a confidence-building performance against a school 3x to 4x the size of the .
The journey began last year when Ronan hosted a Zoom call with the filmmakers of the documentary Alaska Nets. After doing a fundraiser featuring a documentary at Ronan High School, they were selected as finalists in a contest to win a trip to Alaska.
During the Zoom call, the school held a pep talk and showed why it should be chosen among over 1,000 schools. During the call it was announced that both basketball teams had won the trip to Anchorage.
“There were a lot of firsts there,” said women’s basketball coach Steve Wall. “We were the first Ronan team to play in Alaska and the first team to put a shot clock there. They treated me like.”
Ronan also played in front of 2,000 fans in one game when West Anchorage brought all of their schools and communities together for a matchup. Wall said it felt like a home game for him because both schools had the same colors and fight songs.
“There was a frenzy in there. It was a game that felt like a division or a state,” Wall said. “A lot of kids don’t understand that vibe.”
All in all, Alaska has been a wonderful host to visiting athletes.
Chiefs head coach DJ Fish said, “West Anchorage has done us a great job with gym time and movie room. “They did a great job. We appreciate everything.”
Going to Alaska was unlike any other road trip in Montana. Fish pointed out that Alaska is a lot like Montana, and said the kids were excited to travel and represent Ronan.
The girls traveled to Alaska first because the tournament started early. They dealt with a 3 hour time zone change and a drastic reduction in daylight.
“There were a lot of Montana connections out there, a lot of people who knew or had a relationship with someone from Montana,” Wall said. “There’s a lot of Montana Grizz gear out there.”
Ronan’s Boys Bus left at 3am to head to the airport for our flight to Anchorage. After landing and checking into the hotel captain his cook, the boys watched the girls play before eating moose tooth pizza.
“I don’t know if anyone was awake by the time the bed was checked,” Fish said.
The girls spent their free time riding gondolas at ski resorts, driving along the Alaskan coast, and visiting the zoo. We practiced in the morning and played a game in the evening after sightseeing. Wall said this helped keep the children’s internal clocks in order.
When the men’s team wasn’t playing basketball, they checked downtown and bought souvenirs. I did They also drove to Anchorage, the nearby mountains, and a flattop overlooking the ocean.
“Overall, the trip was great,” said Fish. “I don’t think I’ll ever go through something like this again as a coach, and I’m not sure many of these players will be able to go through it as high school players. The coaching staff and players thank everyone who has helped make this possible and thank those who continue to work hard to make it happen.”
Both coaches felt the tough competition and team cohesion would help Chief and Maiden on the homestretch of the Class A season. He said it showed what it was like and created lifelong memories, friendships and acquaintances with other teams.
“I am very grateful to everyone who has been involved in this effort,” Wal said.
See page 1B for a game summary.