The community of Fairbanks has been on the edge of its seat waiting for a special event this week. Hockey Week is a fun-filled time when the community can live and breathe hockey. The 2020 season was set to be extra special. With nearly a year of planning, in conjunction with the Sister City Committee for Fanano, Italy, the birthplace of Felix Pedro, Fairbanks was prepared to host the Fanano Gold Miners Hockey team. The caliber of such a cultural exchange is of tremendous benefit not only in tourism dollars but also through interactions with schoolchildren, historians, workshops and special events.
Suddenly, the community of Fairbanks was on edge upon hearing the news that Italy had gone from five confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) to 650 cases in one week. Fear of this virus is still growing in the Fairbanks community. Due to this unforeseen development, the Sister City and Hockey Committee suddenly faced a moral dilemma. They got busy doing their homework, putting a plan in place, and contacting health officials from Alaska, Seattle and Italy. Plans for detection, protection and potential isolation were crafted. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government had not placed any restrictions on travel from Italy, so the group moved ahead with confidence.
In a high-drama moment Thursday, at 3:06 a.m. Italy time, the Sister City Committee called the Fanano contingent. The Italians had already made the one hour and 20 minute drive by private shuttle to the Bologna airport. They were behind security, getting ready to check their luggage for the 24-hour process of arriving in Fairbanks. They had given up their right for a refund of more than $17,000 in plane tickets. The ultimate sacrifice was made in the interest of public health, the health of the Fairbanks community.
The Fanano Gold Miners turned around and went home.
Thursday in Fairbanks was a sobering and somber day. The Fairbanks contingent breathed a devastating sigh of relief. The selfless decision made by the hockey and sister city community of Fairbanks and the Fanano team, in the spirit of keeping us safe, will have a ripple effect that will not end soon.
The sister city group wishes to give tremendous gratitude to all of the wonderful sponsors that donated more than $10,000 of in-kind services for the entertainment and education of the Fanano Gold Miners. We wish to give recognition to all of the hotels, restaurants and shops that will lose 12 days of revenue. And we appreciate the wonderful volunteers who planned a calendar of incredible events. The community will be well prepared to host the Fanano Gold Miners in the future.
Hockey week is officially underway. It is an extraordinary time to connect with the hockey community. Perhaps Fairbanksans will take a moment to reflect on the generosity of the Fanano group this week.
Julie Engfer Jones is executive director of Festival Fairbanks Inc.