Moultrie Observer

Opinion

August 30, 2007

There’s a new road into Barrow, Alaska

On a Sunday morning last fall, Cathy Parker was getting ready for church when one of her teen-age sons called her to the family room to watch a segment on ESPN about a football team in Barrow, Alaska.

It was an interesting segment because football in Barrow is as rare as ice hockey in Jamaica. It’s not easy to play football where grass doesn’t grow, where on average the mercury doesn’t rise above freezing 247 days out of the year, where the practice field is just a player’s jog to the Arctic Ocean. In fact, only a few people out of the entire town of less than 5,000 had ever played football before the Barrow Whalers’ inaugural season in 2006.

The idea to begin a football team in that community was planted in the minds of teen-agers by famous NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, who traveled to Barrow as a guest speaker for the high school. Later when school superintendent Trent Blankenship surveyed the student body to determine what activities would help them remain interested in school, he was surprised at the largest response: form a football team.

In 2006, the Barrow Whalers donned pads for the first time. Mark Voss was named head coach and put on a coach’s whistle for the first time in 23 years. He surrounded himself with mostly inexperienced men who wanted to make a difference in the lives of more than 40 young men who needed direction and hope.

Could football really give the teen-agers of Barrow hope and direction? Over 50 percent of the students in Barrow drop out of school. When they do, they have no where to go, literally. Barrow is only accessible by boat or air. For 67 days a year, the sun doesn’t even rise. The town has dealt with teen-age depression, teen-age suicide, and even murder. Drug and alcohol use among Barrow’s youth is common.

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