I look forward to February every year. It’s our transition month. January’s dark and usually cold days are behind us, and March lies ahead waiting to finish off winter. Stuck in between, February is short and gives us just enough light to carry on.
And then there’s always something to talk and write about. This February, it’s a veteran assembly member who has landed in federal court and pleaded guilty to not filing his tax returns for several years, and not telling the truth on his APOC reports. Dan Henry’s name has lit up statewide media and the local Facebook chatter the past few days, and it’s kind of sad, especially for the family. Despite all his many good community works over the years, Dan should do the honorable thing and resign his seat, so the municipality can carry on unfettered. People in Skagway who have done wrong, and owned up to it, are easily forgiven.
Before this all went down, I was reminded of the good works of the great Kenny Sailors, who passed away on Jan. 30 at the age of 95. Sailors is best remembered for being the inventor of the jump shot, leading Wyoming to the 1943 NCAA championship, and a member the College Basketball Hall of Fame. But he has a connection to us. After a stint in the Marines, a short pro basketball career, and raising a family on a ranch, he and his wife moved to Alaska in 1965 and settled into a new life of teaching and guiding hunting trips in the Gulkana area.
That was a good life, but in the mid-1980s he decided to follow his buddy Bill Noonkesser down to Southeast Alaska to finish out his teaching career, at Angoon. Noonkesser coached the boys while Sailors, nearing 70, guided the girls. They both had immediate impacts, not just for the way the Eagles improved on the court but in how they earned the respect of others in the region.
I got to know Sailors while covering the Skagway Panthers. The old guy was fun to watch during those three years. I swear he could not remember the names of all his players, but that didn’t matter. Kenny Sailors made everyone around him better. His age may have kept him from calling out a name (“Big girl, post up”), but he knew the player and what she was capable of doing. He never had to shout. A clap of his hands was sufficient motivation, and he took those girls to a region championship in 1990.
He also shared his vast knowledge of the game with opponents. The Skagway girls were also rebuilding at the time, and many of them remember how Sailors took the time to work with the visiting team on various moves. He made our girls better too.
Sailors was the ultimate gentleman coach, and he never tired of writers who asked him to tell the story about the 13-year-old kid finding a new way to shoot a basketball in the backyard over his much taller big brother. The fact that he decided to come to Alaska to share that famous story, and make it a teaching moment for hundreds of our youth, placed Kenny Sailors in my hall of fame.