50 years ago: Homer’s miracle on skis

Nineteen sixty-eight was a banner year for Homer High School cross-country skiing and arguably the best Homer sports team ever. This team of four boys — Larry Martin, Robby Hoedel, Lynn Cason and Drew Nixon — dominated state cross-country skiing by going undefeated for the 1967-68 season. Not only that, these four young men were all chosen to represent Alaska at the Junior Nationals in Bozeman, Montana. At the time there were only five other Alaska schools fielding ski teams: Anchorage West, Anchorage East, Dimond, Fairbanks and Juneau. All of these schools were far larger than Homer but in the same classification. To make it even more amazing, we had only enough boys to field a team of four skiers. They even topped a combined Alaska Methodist University and University of Alaska college team at the AMU relays in Anchorage.

At the Junior Nationals, Homer’s four boys made up almost half of Alaska’s Nordic team with Larry Martin and Robby Hoedel skiing on Alaska’s four-man first team. They placed third nation wide and Alaska’s number two team with Lynn Cason and Drew Nixon placed eighth. Individually, Larry Martin was the top American skier in the 10k race and the fastest in the relay race. He earned a college scholarship in Colorado, was named to the U.S. National Team and participated in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games. Larry and his wife Linda live in Homer and own Lakeshore Glass. Lynn Cason lives in Anchorage and Robby Hoedel in Kodiak. Drew Nixon died in a commercial fishing accident.

There also was a girl’s ski program. The girl’s team placed third at state in 1968, besting Juneau, East and Fairbanks. Those skiers were Gayle Gregory, Linda Poindexter, Sharon Cooper and Sally Barnett. Homer had a ski team dating back to the 1950s which provided the only organized sport for girls.

Ironically, when we went to Bozeman for the Junior Nationals, Bobby Moss was a freshman on Montana State’s ski team and having an outstanding year for his college team. Bobby was on a scholarship there and was a product of the Kachemak Ski Club program and skied on the Homer High School alpine team for four years. Unfortunately, alpine skiing was dropped in Alaska High Schools after 1967, but not before Homer had won three other combined alpine and Nordic state titles. So, some background to why Homer had such success in high school skiing.

I came to Homer to teach in 1953.There were no organized school sports other than skiing. Most of the credit goes to the Kachemak Ski Club, which was formed in the late 1940s and ran school programs. During the winter, every Friday school was let out at noon and every child from kindergarten through high school had the opportunity to ski with lessons provided by the ski club at no cost. A number of the old time families were involved, including the Mosses, Mclays, Vanderbrinks, Meads, Hoedels, and Andersons.

Some more background is in order. My first skiing experience came as Homer’s scoutmaster. We took overnight winter trips to the old school house by the now city reservoir. The road was only plowed to the Y at the top of West Hill road so we had to ski from there. Then we joined the ski club and learned downhill from people like Guy Rosi and cross-country from Yule Kilcher. That experience and being a teacher was evidently enough to qualify me as the ski coach.

Homer’s first interscholastic ski competition was with West Anchorage in I think 1956. West was the only high school in Anchorage at that time. They chartered a DC-3 and came to Homer for three days of competition at the Ohlson Mountain site. Homer returned the favor the next year with races at the military Arctic Valley site. Thus began organized high school skiing in Alaska. Alyeska Ski Resort was only a dream then.

In the beginning in the late 1940s ,the whole school was housed in a wooden building located at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue. The adjacent block building to the west was added in 1952. By 1953 when I came we had a staff of seven teachers and maybe 75 students. Teachers were hired through Juneau since we were still a territory. The only other activities at the school besides skiing were an outside basketball hoop and a volleyball net on the playground.

In the spring of 1954 I began a track and field program at recess and after school. Our high jump, pole vault and long jump pit was filled with local sawdust. The vaulting pole, standards and crossbars were cut from alders lining the playground. A running program began in the fall. Our track was around the playground and the gravel road in front of the school — the Sterling Highway.

When Bill Wiltrout became Superintendent in the late 1950s, Homer was not yet a city and each school was operated out of Juneau with its own superintendent. Bill was very sports minded and track and field was expanded. Our first meet was with Kenai on a cinder track at Wildwood Air Force Base.

The first basketball competition in 1956 was with Ninilchik in their school basement. The room was about 50-feet long, 30-feet wide, with a 9-feet ceiling. No dunking even then.

After the first gym opened in 1959, other early sports like basketball, wrestling and gymnastics were organized. All early sports were run and supported by volunteers with no financial support from the school until after the borough was formed in 1964. It then took a few more years to negotiate financial support for teams and coaching salaries.

In 1982 I retired from teaching and coaching, but have remained an enthusiastic supporter of both academic and athletic programs in the Homer schools.

I have a large scrapbook of mostly skiing, with some track articles ranging from 1954-1984. If anyone is interested in seeing this, give me a call at 907-235-8544.

David Schroer was the Homer High School Mariner ski team coach in 1967-68.