Photo courtesy Harley Sundown
Harley Sundown has been in Scammon Bay is whole life. He was born and raised in the Western Alaska village and probably will be buried there.
The 51-year-old basketball coach has worked with kids in Scammon Bay for half his life and never before could he remember when the boys and girls hoops teams combined for a 43-1 record.
The boys are 24-0 and ranked third in Class 1A. The girls are 19-1 and ranked fifth. Both teams qualified for the ASAA State Tournament, starting this weekend in Anchorage.
“We’ve never had it this good,” Sundown told me. “It is indeed a milestone because both teams are finding the same formula of success for achievement.”
Sundown coaches the boys team and his son Herschel coaches the girls.
Scammon Bay is one of five 1A schools to qualify its boys and girls teams to the state tournament. The others are Nikolaevsk, Newhalen, Manokotak and Teller.
The Scammon Bay boys are one of only two undefeated teams in Alaska, joining the 4A West Valley girls [23-0] in the unbeaten club.
It’s a great sense of pride for Sundown, who led the Eagles to the 2012 state championship game when Scammon Bay was at the 2A level. They finished fourth in 2011.
Scammon Bay has since been moved to 1A after ASAA realigned the statewide classifications, but Sundown didn’t walk away from the 2A ranks empty handed.
“I learned the hard way a number of years ago when we were 2A. We were fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, to attend the 2A tournament up at Point Hope. Those northern teams kicked our butts,” Sundown said with a laugh.
“It was the best thing that could happen to us because it made me realize the kind of coaching we needed. After that I made a commitment that we were going to have basketball camps every summer year.”
Sundown brought college coaches to Scammon Bay, including current UAA coach Rusty Osborne and former UAA coach Charlie Bruns, to teach the kids fundamentals and work on player development.
“At the same time the coaches were out here I picked their brains about drills, practice habits and defensive concepts,” Sundown said. “The basketball camps were both a benefit to me and the kids, and that’s where our upswing in our state appearances and willing all came together.”
Scammon Bay qualified the boys and girls basketball teams to state for the first time last year. Now they’ve done it twice.
“Our players are behaving in school, doing well in academics, two areas we concentrate on. That’s been a big benefit to our students is developing good moral character,” Sundown said. “That’s the backbone of what we’ve tried to do here.”
Sundown’s son Herschel is a product of Scammon Bay. After graduating high school he went on to play a season of college basketball at Peninsula in Washington. Then he came back home to share his understanding and love of the game.
“This is the first year of him coaching the girls on his own,” Sundown said. “He has taken all that knowledge of playing college basketball and watching his college coach, and maybe watching me, and he’s done a tremendous job with the girls.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska Activities School Association.