PHS junior Owen Heiken was among the final four players in the free-throw shooting contest. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Stepping into the Ketchikan High gymnasium Tuesday evening to watch the Warriors compete in skills contests, you could sense just how raucous of an atmosphere it could be when filled with basketball fans.

Philomath High boys coach Blake Ecker has shared some stories with me about how they cram the venue in support of the tournament — which is called the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic.

First up was a free-throw shooting contest. This is an event where every player takes turns from the foul line. If you make it, you remain in the game. If you miss, you go sit in the bleachers. Philomath senior Hailie Couture finished runner-up in the girls’ contest and for the boys, junior Owen Heiken, wearing a Les & Bob’s shirt, was among the final four.

Next up was the 3-point shooting contest. Entrants for the PHS girls were freshman Emily Taunisila and sophomore Anneka Steen. Seniors Cole Beardsley and Ty May went for the boys.

I believe in past years, the tournament’s organizers might’ve staged a slam dunk contest but unfortunately, that didn’t happen on this night. The school official in charge announced it was time to wrap up the evening with the tournament getting an early start the next day.

PHS senior Hailie Couture finished runner-up in the free-throw shooting contest. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A long day of travel

The contests wrapped up a full day of morning drama, a drive to Seattle and a flight north to Alaska.
The day for me started at around 3:15 a.m. when I was awakened by loud crashing noises. With a trip to begin in only a few hours, a lot of thoughts drifted through my mind and I was never able to get back to sleep. When the sun came up, I discovered the source of the noise from a few hours earlier — our full-size propane barbecue was on its side and the screen door was on the far side of the back yard. If not for the fence, it would’ve been floating in the water-filled unfinished foundation in the next lot over.

When I left, I also noticed that the tree in our front yard had snapped in half. I believe there’s a city ordinance requiring street trees, so I imagine I’ll need to buy another one.

Of course all of this was the result of a wicked windstorm that blew through our town. My first instinct was to report on this to the community in the form of a news story but I couldn’t take the time with a need to get on the road. The trip to Seattle might take longer than expected with a car crash or two on I-5.

PHS senior Cole Beardsley eyes the basket during the 3-point shooting contest. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

As it turned out, the trip was fairly uneventful and even with a very long security checkpoint line at the airport, I made it to the gate with 10 minutes to spare before boarding — just enough time to eat an overpriced chicken and bacon wrap.

The flight had a little turbulence but went smoothly. I sat in the middle of several PHS basketball players and there were some parents of players on the same flight.

Upon our arrival in Ketchikan, the weather was a little chilly — nothing too intense and in fact, I stood outside on the short ferry ride from the airport to the city.

The kids seemed to be having a good time and all were well-behaved. It reminded me of some road trips I took as a high school athlete back in the day. Those are pleasant memories — well, OK, maybe not all of them (I’m referring to wins and losses). But it makes me wonder what the Philomath kids will remember about the trip when they reach my age.

PHS sophomore Anneka Steen grabs a basketball while participating in a 3-point shooting contest. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

By the way, I did get a story finished on the windstorm. During the trip, I emailed various sources to try to get a more complete picture of the damage beyond my street tree and barbecue. I did the best I could without actually being in town and thankfully, my sources emailed several photos.

Hopefully, Philomath’s teams put in a good showing at the tournament. It all gets started on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. with the girls. The boys play a late one at 9:15 p.m. (and to them, it’ll be 10:15 p.m. because of the time change).

Check in later for reports from the games, including photos.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.