For the first time in nearly 20 years, the small island community of Mekoryuk has enough players to field a high school basketball team.
Two girls and five boys play on the co-ed team.
In their first game this year, the team played against Tununak, a nearby village in Western Alaska. Fifteen-year-old power forward Harvey Wesley said that he had butterflies going into the game.
“I was super-very nervous,” Wesley said. “Because it was my first game, and I was nervous and I was scared.”
At the same time, he said that he was equally excited, “because every time I looked at that scoreboard I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think we’re gonna win.’”
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And they did.
Mekoryuk won that first game, and half of the rest of their games this season. That’s good enough to advance them to the small school district tournament, the 1A Coastal Conference Tournament, which begins March 3 in Bethel. If they win that, they’ll advance to the state tournament.
Wesley said that this season hasn’t just been about winning, though. It’s also been about the relationships he’s built with his teammates.
“Me and my friends got more closer, and we’ve been talking to each other for basketball and saying, ‘Hey, I think if we do this way, this would be more better,’” Wesley said.
Plus, he said that being part of the team has made him more engaged in school.
“Before I ever joined the basketball team, I always seen school as, like, ‘Oh, I got a long day at school.’ And then ever since I joined basketball, I’m like, ‘Oh, yes, I can get all my assignments done and then I can be in a basketball practice,’” Wesley said.
Wesley is one of just seven players on the team. The co-ed team plays against boys teams from other schools. Coach Edward Kiokun said that the two girls both start, which is unique to Mekoryuk.
“There’s no other co-ed team that I know of right now,” Kiokun said.
Kiokun said that the reason the girls and boys are on the same team, and the reason Mekoryuk hasn’t had a team in nearly 20 years, is that there just aren’t that many students there.
“We’re a small community. On a good day, it’s 200 people. And, you know, we have about 45 kids in the whole school, preschool through 12,” Kiokun said.
This year, there were finally enough high school students to field a basketball team. Wesley, the sophomore, said that he’d been waiting for this day for a long time.
“I was so excited, because I’ve been asking my principal, ‘Hey do you think there will be a basketball season this year.’ Or ‘When can we get a basketball thing going?’” Wesley said.
Kiokun said that there are students who are from Mekoryuk attending boarding schools like Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka this year. But he said that they’ve heard about the basketball team in Mekoryuk, and some are wanting to come back. He said that he’s hoping to have both a boys’ team and a girls’ team next year.