FAIRBANKS — Nov. 13, 1979, should go down as the day the Fairbanks sports scene changed forever and, depending on who you talk to, hopefully for the better.
At 4 that morning, I began my first shift at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, replacing the irreplaceable Dan Raley, who went on to become the one of the best sports writers ever at the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
Who would have ever thought a skinny 118-pound, 25-year-old, pretty much blind sports writer from coastal California with hair down to his shoulders and a fu manchu mustache would have survived a winter?
Not very many, I would guess. But you’re reading these words by that very same person — a little older, hopefully a little wiser, slightly better groomed, carrying just a little more weight, seeing much better thanks to the good Dr. Zamber and still churning out stories on every sport imaginable.
If you go back as far as 1979, you’ll remember Jimmy Carter was president, Al Svenningson was coaching the University of Alaska Fairbanks men’s basketball team, the Nanooks hockey program was just beginning, the Monroe Catholic Rams were boys state basketball champions, Second Avenue in downtown Fairbanks was a booming business district, the Alaska Gold Kings senior men’s hockey team was thriving in Fairbanks, happy hours were legal, the Big I was where I drank my first adult beverage with most of the News-Miner staff less than an hour after landing at Fairbanks International Airport, the News-Miner was a p.m. paper owned by C.W. Snedden, there was a composing room at the newspaper where they actually pasted up pages (now they’re all done on computers), the temperature in the Big Dipper Ice Arena was the same inside as it was outside and I lived in the Albright Apartments on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks where the new Veterans Memorial Bridge opened Monday afternoon,
It all began in October 1979 when sports editor Keith Olson and managing editor Kent Sturgis accepted a collect phone call from an unknown sports writer hanging out with a friend in Seattle for the weekend. They decided to interview me on the spot, with the instructions to call back in 10 days.
Ten days later, the job was mine. After completing 33 years, with one short break to help out with the 1985 Yukon Quest, the job is still mine (I think).
It didn’t take long for the mustache to come off and hair to get trimmed — there was a strict dress code at the News-Miner in those days.
One of my first assignments at the News-Miner was to write a little biography of myself to be printed within the first week of starting work.
As soon as Don Pruhs, owner of Pike’s Landing at the time, saw it, my phone was buzzing. I don’t recall ever paying for beer or tacos during Monday Night Football games at Pike’s. Don, like myself, graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
I was pretty much accepted into the Fairbanks community after that.
There are so many memories, it’s hard to pick out the highlights when you’ve covered so many sports from boat racing and baseball, to dog mushing and cross-country skiing, and from auto racing to snowmachine racing. I think you get the picture.
So here is a list of a few of my favorite moments, some I’ve written, others that just happened.
• Covering a Gold Kings hockey game for the first time when the temperature inside the Big Dipper was 30 below.
• Covering the 1982 and 1888 Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks and later on the Kenai Peninsula.
• Watching the evolution of the Open North American from the legendary days of Doc Roland Lombard and George Attla to the modern domination by Egil Ellis.
• Covering the Yukon 800 and the Midnight Sun Baseball Game.
• Covering the World Eskimo Indian Olympics.
• Watching the Gold Kings winning their first of five national championships in St. Louis and their last in Fresno, Calif.
• Covering Nanooks hockey during the Steve Moria and Keith Street eras — two of the best players to ever play for the Nanooks.
• Going on road trips to Norway with the Gold Kings and Switzerland with the Nanooks.
• Being named winner of the Spirit of the Equinox Award and being inducted into the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of Fame.
• Watching Trajan Langdon and Carlos Boozer play their final high school basketball games when state tournaments were held in Fairbanks.
• Watching the Alaska Nanooks, led by Brad Oleson, win the BP Top of the World Classic men’s basketball tournament with wins against Wisconsin-Green Bay, Nebraska and Weber State.
• Covering the start of the Iditarod.
• Writing the first story ever about the founding of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
• Time has run out, but there are many, many more so I hope I didn’t slight anyone.
• Covering numerous curling national championships in Fairbanks and the good old days of the International Bonspiel.
• Covering the 1984 World Cup Nordic Ski Race at Birch Hill and the many state and national championship races since then.
Here’s a list of many of the people who have passed through the News-Miner sports department and made my job so much easier: It’s not in order and I know I’ve missed a few (memory fades with age), but every one of you holds a special spot in my life.
So, to Keith Olson, John M. Sweeney, Kathy Berry, Dave Thomas, John Fridrich, Tim Mowry, Dan Graf, Doug Hill (I still have his microwave), Rich Griffis, Tim Parker, Mary Jones, Josh Niva, Susan Adeletti, Mike Stetson, Dean M. Lichterman, Matias Saari, Amy Miller, Richard Larson, Eric Goold, Danny Martin, Josh Armstrong, Adam Raeder, Renee Thony, and interns Mike Sica, Marcia Jones, Ned Rozell, Jason Gazewood, “Hotline” Harlow Robinson and Rebecca George, you are all the best.
I don’t know how long this ride will last, but there are some great events coming up in the next year or two — the IFSS Mushing World Championships, the Junior National Nordic ski races and the 2014 Arctic Winter Games — I’d like to be a part of.
After all these years, it’s still fun to be in the “Toy Department” of the News-Miner.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Bob Eley is sports editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. You can reach him at email@example.com or 459-7581.