BY DANIEL PISCOYA
Managing Editor, UAS Whalesong
As many of you already know, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen announced recently that the university is considering a number of cuts to college sports teams at UAF and UAA. These teams include UAF and UAA’s cross country (or nordic) ski teams.
Now, here at UAS, these cuts may seem a bit distant and irrelevant. Juneau is a puddle of a town in nordic skiing terms – there are barely any back country trails, and even these are suspect due to irregular snowfall.
However, as a graduate of a Fairbanks, Alaska high school (you stay classy, West Valley), I want to stress that nordic skiing, when the conditions are consistent, is one of the most uniquely Alaskan and comprehensively healthy sports in existence. I started skiing about two years before high school, and, when I joined the West Valley Nordic Ski Team, I loved the sport so much, that I dedicated myself to it all four years. Because of this dedication (not, alas, my own skill) I was awarded an honorary varsity letter.
Speaking from experience, not only is it one of the best workouts possible, but it can more effectively combat mental health issues like seasonal affective disorder than anything else I have ever done. When I came to Juneau, one of the first things I noticed is that, even in the milder and brighter winters we have here, the absence of skiing meant I needed to start taking vitamin D. In Fairbanks, even though the winters are darker, I never needed to take it regularly because I was always active and outside during the bright hours.
However, the unique health benefits aren’t even the most important thing about the sport. The reason that students of UAS should care about Fairbanks and Anchorage’s ski teams is because these teams put the University of Alaska on the international map. Even at the level of a single high school team, skiing gets Alaska noticed – I knew at least three teammates who represented my city on a national level, and at least one other who represented the United States on an international level. Many of my world-class skier friends went on to study and ski at UA campuses. In fact, three of the current members of UAF’s men’s ski team are friends of mine from high school.
Not only does UA nordic skiing keep Alaskan skiers in the state, though. UA nordic skiing rosters reflect that these teams have made Alaska an international skiing destination. Read just the UAF men’s team and you’ll find skiers from the Czech Republic and Germany alongside skiers from Chugiak, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. Remove these teams, and the UA system removes yet another reason students come to Alaska in the first place.
If it seems like I am beginning to lose patience, it’s because I am. Not only will my three friends at UAF be out of a sport (and probably scholarships, if I assume correctly), but their coaches will be out of a job, and the extensive UAF West Ridge trail system (which is already maintained by volunteers) will no longer be used by UAF competitive skiers.
My question to the UA President, then, is whether this particular sport – arguably the most Alaskan, and definitely the most internationally famous – is truly the right sport to cut? Call me a nag, but wouldn’t it be a bad choice to cut one of the four sports that has ever taken an Alaskan to the Olympics? With tuition hikes on the horizon, I’m not sure the UA system can expect its recruiters to work with fewer attractive features and produce the greater enrollment statistics that we really need.
There must be a better solution.
Feel free to contact Daniel Piscoya at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the Whalesong e-mail: email@example.com.