Effective this year, the schools in three Russian Old Believer schools at the head of Kachemak Bay no longer have athletic programming.
Michael Wojciak, principal of both Kachemak-Selo School and Voznesenka School, said running the programs for soccer, wrestling and cross-country running became too much for the school administration with the little resources it had.
Those two schools along with Razdolna had a varsity football team for five seasons which garnered attention from both the Anchorage Daily News and the New York Times. That program ended last year.
In order to be sanctioned by the Alaska School Activities Association, all sports were organized under the umbrella of Voznesenka, but students from any of the three schools could participate. Wojciak said it was much harder to become part of ASAA than to leave it.
Athletic programming has come to and end for a few different reasons. With the schools being so small, Wojciak said they were struggling to keep the number of participants up in each of the sports. Another struggle has been finding coaches willing to put in the work and time for more than a year or two, he said.
“A big part was Justin Zank, who was the head football coach (who left this year),” Wojciak said. Zank now works in Homer and coaches the Homer High School football team. “He was our football coach, our middle school wrestling coach, our high school wrestling coach.”
Zank held practice and weight lifting in his own personal garage. Wojciak said it was originally thought that the schools would be given some space in a new addition being added to one of the churches, but that it doesn’t look like that’s happening after all.
“To find another coach willing to hold practices in their garage” is a feat Wojciak said he just didn’t think would be possible.
“I’ll never say never, but things are going to have to look a whole lot different before I would ever address ASAA again,” he said.
The schools would have to have sufficient available coaches and proper facilities for holding sports practices, he said.
While athletic programming is ending for the village students, Wojciak said the communities did work hard to make it possible for a long time.
“The kids who are really involved, and the families that are really involved in athletics, those kids will continue to be a part of those programs, but in Homer,” he said.
An example of this is Anthony Kalugin, who got experience playing football with the Head of the Bay Cougars program before it ended and who is now the quarterback for the Homer Mariners. He is joined by several other players from the village schools, including running back Antonin Murachev, Markian Reutov, Naum Murachev and Nestor Kalugin, Anthony’s younger brother.
Wojciak said the students from the village schools choosing to participate in Homer High School sports are showing an even greater commitment, seeing as they have a nearly hour-long drive just to get into town each day for practices.
Until the village schools have some major facility changes and dedicated coaching staff, Wojciak said they will remain without athletic programming.
“It was a much easier web to rip down than it was to weave,” he said.
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