The Haines Merchants were the champions in the 35th Dick Hotch Memorial Tournament over the weekend. The Merchants faced five other teams from Haines, Klukwan, Juneau and Whitehorse and took home the $2,500 prize.
It’s Thursday night, and the Haines Merchants are playing the first game of the tournament against the Juneau team Good Ol’ Boys.
The Merchants have a welcome addition to the team this year – Kyle Fossman. The Haines High School graduate played basketball professionally in Germany. Now he’s back in Haines, playing here. He says, it’s hard to compare the two.
“[In professional basketball,] you don’t get to just take a shot whenever you want. You have to fill in a role, unless you’re a superstar,” Fossman said. “Whereas in these tournaments you have a lot more freedom to take a crazy shot once in a while if you want to.”
Fossman’s team won the first game against the Good Ol’ Boys. Up next, it’s the Chilkat Thunder against Big Bigness, a Whitehorse team. The name of the team has to do with the height of its players – two of them are close to seven feet tall. Colin LaForme is six-foot-ten.
“Yes, it plays on the size of our team, we’re a large team this year.”
LaForme says the Yukon Men’s league started about two years ago and has grown from four to six teams, with about 80 men registered. He says he hopes to foster a culture of basketball in Whitehorse similar to that in Southeast Alaska.
“There’s nothing like going into a full gym in March and people are here watching it,” LaForme said. “We don’t have that in Whitehorse right now, it’s not the same. So it’s a great experience and great culture.”
Jason Shull plays for the Haines Merchants. He grew up here, but lives in Washington now.
“The best way I can describe it is it’s kind of woven into the fabric of the culture,” Shull said. “No matter who you are or where you’re from in Southeast, basketball in some way affects your life.”
He says he wouldn’t miss this tournament for the world.
“It’s my home. Basketball really means something up here and it means something to me.”
Dick Hotch wasn’t just for men this year. Two women’s teams competed as well — one from Haines and one from Juneau. Krista Kielsmeier helped organize the newly former Haines women’s league.
“It sets a good example for the young people in town,” she said. “There’s so many times where these kids come and watch the men play over and over again, and it’s good for them to see the women out there. I like when some of the boys see their moms playing out there. Like Patricia Faverty, her son Kirby will come watch. And it’s good for him to see his mom go out there and make shots and scramble for the ball, it’s great.”
The Haines women are planning to compete in the Juneau Gold Medal basketball tournament later this month. Most of the men’s teams are also preparing for that competition. But Shull says, this tournament stands on its own in terms of the sportsmanship it inspires.
“Dick Hotch really stood for sportsmanship, that’s always been kind of the cornerstone of the tournament, and that’s kind of a special thing. I love it.”
Shull’s team, the Haines Merchants, faced off against the Juneau Good Ol’ Boys again in the championship game Sunday, and won 98-92. Kyle Fossman received the Most Valuable Player award, Whitehorse player Karl Gruber recieved the sportsmanship award, and Joe Hotch received the ‘best fan’ prize.