FAIRBANKS — A record-setting high school football coach and a unique marathon in the Interior are headed to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Buck Nystrom, who guided Eielson and North Pole to state championships and is the winningest coach in Alaska high school football history, and the Equinox Marathon, considered one of the toughest races in the nation, are part of the class of 2012 that was announced Monday during a media conference at the Special Olympics Alaska headquarters in Anchorage.
The other members of the hall’s seventh induction class are Herb Didrickson, a standout high school basketball player and all-around athlete in Sitka during the 1940s; Soldotna’s Les Anderson for his world-record king salmon catch of 97 1/4 pounds in 1985 on the Kenai River; and Anchorage’s Chris Clark for winning in the women’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 2000 in Columbia, S.C.
The inductees were determined through online public voting and votes of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame selection committee during its meeting Sunday morning at Clarion Suites Hotel in downtown Anchorage.
“Yesterday, we wrapped a pretty thorough, detailed and robust discussion, and some really good decisions came out of it,” Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, said during the media conference. Robinson was joined at a table by selection committee members Danny Martin of the News-Miner; Mike Sica, a journalist, radio broadcaster and sports historian in Southeast; and Lew Freedman, a freelance writer, author and former Anchorage Daily News sports editor.
Other Alaska Sports Hall of Fame selection committee members are Bob Eley, selection committee chairman and News-Miner sports editor; Mike Janacek, a former Palmer High School cross country and track coach and athletic director; Steve Nerland, a longtime coach and sports administrator in Anchorage; Beth Bragg, Anchorage Daily News sports editor; and George Houston, former Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball coach.
Didrickson, now 86, will be inducted in the individuals category with Nystrom, who died at 64 in September 2006 in Anchorage of complications from heart surgery.
The Equinox Marathon, which celebrated its 50th running in September, is the lone inductee in the events category. Anderson’s and Clark’s achievements will be inducted for the moments category.
An exact date hasn’t been finalized, but the induction ceremony is scheduled for February at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
Nystrom, a native of Ironton, Minn., was born as David Nystrom but was known more by his nickname Buck.
He compiled a 150-88 record while coaching the Eielson Ravens for 25 seasons and the North Pole Patriots for six seasons.
Current Eielson head football coach David DeVaughn was a two-way lineman for the Ravens from 1988-91 and he remembers Nystrom’s strong character.
“One of his lasting rules was do what’s right, be on time and work hard,” DeVaughn said during a telephone interview Sunday night.
“That’s who Buck was and that’s what he demanded of himself and his players,” said DeVaughn, who led Eielson this past season to an unbeaten season (9-0) and the small schools state title.
Nystrom guided Eielson to the state championship in 1992, when Alaska schools played for a single title, and he coached North Pole to the large schools state crown in 2004.
Current Lathrop head coach Rusty Ham was a senior fullback for the Ravens in 1975, Nystrom’s first season as head coach. Ham was a Ravens assistant coach in 1992 and was North Pole’s defensive coordinator for Nystrom in 2004 and 2006.
“On the first day of practice, the first thing he wrote on the chalkboard was in order to win games, everyone needs to know what everyone else is doing on every play. I remember that as a kid and as a coach,” said Ham, who also assisted North Pole from 2008-10.
This past season, the five football schools in the Fairbanks area — Eielson, Lathrop, Monroe Catholic, North Pole and West Valley — had at least one member of their coaching staffs who was either a player or coach, or both, for Nystrom.
“He was a great guy to coach with and he never put the team in a bad position,” Ham said. “He had a simple system that never changed since 1975, though he may have added a few wrinkles.”
Nystrom was among 50 high school coaches from around the country invited by USA Football to its national symposium in 2005 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In the 2010 high school football season, North Pole and Colony named their Railbelt Conference rivalry “The Boot Bowl,” with the winner receiving a bronzed trophy of a football cleat that Nystrom wore during his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The Equinox Marathon starts and finishes at the Patty Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The 26.2-mile course
follows bicycle trails and dirt trails and dirt roads and includes a trip up the 2,323-foot Ester Dome. After participants descend Ester Dome, the course moves along Henderson and Gold Hill Roads before returning to the Patty Center.
Stan Justice set the course record of 2 hours, 41 minutes and 30 seconds in 1984 and Susan Faulkner owns the women’s record of 3:18:16, established in 2002.
Eric Strabel of Palmer celebrated his 31st birthday by winning overall in the 50th edition of the marathon in 2:45:15.8 this past Sept. 15.
Robinson has competed 10 times in the Equinox Marathon, including the 50th anniversary race. He first maneuvered over the 26.2-mile challenge while he was a student at UAF.
“I couldn’t go up and down a set stairs after that,” Robinson said of the way he felt physically after his Equinox.
He had similar feelings after participating in September, but he said the community involvement and atmosphere of the Equinox has attracted him.
“The atmosphere at the Equinox reminds a little bit of what you feel in Seward during the Mount Marathon (Run),” Robinson said Monday. “The whole community is out there, and at every aid station all way out to the end of Ester Dome and back, everyone’s out cheering you on whether you’re in the lead or at the back of the pack.”
The Equinox includes a relay, and an ultramarathon was added in 2009. The ultramarathon’s course was 31 miles in its first year and increased to 40 miles in 2011.
Didrickson, on the same day his induction was annouced, was in Anchorage getting treatment for cancer.
Besides being a standout basketball point guard, Didrickson excelled in cross country and track and field at Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson High School, from which he graduated in 1946.
Didrickson later played basketball for Sheldon Jackson College, which later named its gymnasium for him. He stayed active in basketball throughout his adult life, participating in the Gold Medal Tournament in Juneau — an Alaska Sports Hall of Fame inductee last year for events — and in international tournaments that were conducted in Southeast.
Anderson caught his record king salmon on May 17, 1985 while fishing with a friend on the Kenai River.
“When they hooked the fish, they had no idea how big it was at the time,” Freedman, who is working on a book about the Kenai River, said during the media conference. “They’re fighting the fish and they couldn’t even get it in the boat. They had to drag it to shore.
“They looked at it and said we’ve got to get to a scale,” Freedman added.
The fish was later stuffed and mounted, and it is on display at the Soldotna Visitors Association headquarters.
Anderson died at 84 in 2003.
Clark was then 37 and had trained on a treadmill in her home to prepare for Olympic Marathon Trials. On Feb. 26, 2000 and amid 70-degree weather in South Carolina’s capital, the pathologist and mother of two recorded a time of 2:33:31 to outpace 140 other finishers, exceed her personal best time of 7:07 and qualify for the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Clark had the 22nd fastest qualifying time heading into the trials but in Columbia, she worked her into the lead, pulling ahead at the 20-mile mark.
“My expectations were top 20, and a great day would be top 10,” Clark said in an April 14, 2008 article on the Runners World magazine website about the history of the women’s U.S. Olympic Trials and the Olympic Marathon. “Winning, I never thought about. I stayed focused on what I needed to do. I never thought I’d run this fast. ...”
Clark was the only American to qualify for the women’s marathon at the Sydney Olympics because she didn’t have an Olympic ‘A’ standard, or sub 2:33:00 time, in the trials.
At the Sydney Olympics, Clark placed 19th with a PR of 2:31:35.