For the first in more than 30 years, Haines’ city league basketball tournament included an official women’s division. The Dick Hotch Memorial Tournament took place over the weekend, with six men’s teams and three women’s teams.
Marvin Willard was one of the starting five on a winning Chilkat Valley city league team coached by Dick Hotch.
“I played for him for 11 years,” Willard said. “We were the first team in Haines and Klukwan to bring a trophy home.”
That was in 1963. The influential coach has been celebrated for 36 years with this tournament. And now, it’s entering a new chapter, with an official women’s division.
“It finally clicked in my head that the only reason I wasn’t playing basketball competitively was because I was a woman,” said Krista Kielsmeier, who has lived in Haines close to seven years. She’s been a spectator at Dick Hotch since she first moved here.
About two years ago, she decided to do something about the lack of competitive basketball opportunities for women in Haines.
“And I just decided, if that is the only reason that I am not playing basketball, because I am a woman, that it is unacceptable and I’m going to fix it,” Kielsmeier said. “So I wrote an epic Facebook rant saying we’re gonna change this. And we did. And I feel great.”
Kielsmeier played on one of the two Haines women’s teams in the tournament. The bracket was diminished from four to three teams because a group from Whitehorse decided not to drive down Friday due to rough road conditions.
The other women’s team, the Juneau Monstarz, also had a tough time making it to Haines. Friday’s ferry was cancelled because of weather. So, Kayla Williams, Dee Boster and their teammates braved the strong winds and flew here.
“We risked our lives for basketball,” joked Williams.
“Only people in Southeast would do that,” added Boster.
The scary flight was worth it – the Juneau Monstarz won the women’s bracket. They received a $1,000 prize.
“I would definitely want to come back,” said Monstarz player Tasha Heumann. “I mean, Haines has been so hospitable to us. Great food, great accommodation, great competition. Overall I think we really had a good time.”
The Haines women’s team that came in second will head to the Gold Medal Tournament in Juneau in a few weeks. Alisa Beske says they hope to improve for that competition.
“I do think we could have played better,” said Beske. “But it was still a valuable experience. And Juneau was tough, probably the best team we’ve played.”
The Haines women went to Gold Medal for the first time last year and won.
Klukwan Chilkats team member Michael Ganey says Dick Hotch is great preparation for the bigger tournament, but it also stands on its own, with a high level of athleticism.
“Especially in the last couple years it’s gotten a lot more competitive,” Ganey said. “The level of talent has really risen. The competition has gotten a lot better.”
One recent, very talented addition to the tournament is Kyle Fossman. Fossman was on the Haines High School team that won state in 2010. After several years of professional play abroad, Fossman came back to his hometown. He was named Most Valuable Player at Dick Hotch last year and this year.
Kyle Rush played with Fossman in 2010 when Haines won state. Like many locals who have moved away, he came back to town to compete in this tournament.
“I think [this tournament] huge,” Rush said. “It’s a great time, especially in these cold winter months. Bring people together, bring people into the town. Sports are great for everybody.”
Rush and Fossman’s team, Haines Packing, went on to win the men’s bracket. They beat the Juneau Good Ole Boys 117-89. The men’s winner receives a $2,500 prize.
Tournament organizer Stuart DeWitt says considering the weather conditions that nearly prevented multiple teams from participating, the tournament went well. He hopes both the men’s and women’s divisions stay strong and grow in the future.