The newest class elected into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame will have a distinctly throwback feel that hearkens back to a time of Kenai Peninsula dominance.
Three of the 10 individual inductees dominated their time at Homer High School, all super athletes and coaches that defined an era of excellence for Mariners sports. The ceremony, scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday at the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage, will include Beth Ladd, Jody Hensen-Reding and Dave Cloud. All three made big contributions to the Mariners in a time when Homer seemingly won every other sports championship.
Among the successful Homer teams in the 1980s and early 1990s were a pair of three-peat state champions in the girls basketball and cross-country running teams, as well as a repeat champion in the wrestling squad. Ladd, Hensen-Reding and Cloud played major roles in the three-time state champion basketball team, while Ladd added several other individual state crowns in track and Hensen-Reding notched a state title with the volleyball team.
Ladd and Cloud both credit the former coaches and administrators in Homer for building a culture of winning and hard work ethic.
“We weren’t just a bunch of dummies out there,” Ladd said. “They really shaped us into who we are.”
Cloud said the incredible friendship he shared with fellow peninsula coaches Craig Jung of Kenai Central and Dan Gensel of Soldotna helped stoke the flames of competition, which pushed the Mariners to three consecutive girls hoops titles from 1989 to 1991.
“It was a phenomenal culture we had in the program,” Cloud said. “We were in (Class) 4A all those years, and we had great players all the way through. … I think Sitka was maybe the smallest 4A school in the state, but we were next, and we were always a contender.”
The trio will join fellow Homer members from the Hall that include Alice Witte, Larry Martin, Dave Brann, Dave Schroer, Bill Wiltrout and Ian Pitzman.
‘BASKETBALL WAS MY FIRST LOVE’
Ladd created a successful prep and collegiate career on the cross-country trails and track, where she ran at Texas A&M after graduating from Homer in 1991, but she doesn’t deny that the hardwood was where she found her original calling.
Receiving guidance from Cloud and working off star point guard Jody Hensen, Ladd morphed into a fearsome defensive force to be reckoned with. Ladd’s speed and endurance made her one of top defensive players in the state, and radio color commentator Dave Webb anointed her “the steal curtain.”
“I used to score like 16 points a game, all off steals,” Ladd recalled. “My coach told me to guard the other (guard) on their team, and I never left their hips.
“Dave Cloud taught us what defense was all about, and teams did not like us.”
Ladd funneled that gritty work ethic into her running, which originally began in the sprints. The speedster was more interested in racing the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprint races, but her coach Dennis Dempsey told her she would be better off in the distance events.
Apparently, Dempsey knew what he was talking about. The move paid off in spades as Ladd ticked off state championships in the girls 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, events in which she still holds school records.
“At Homer, we had such neat teachers,” she said fondly. “We were nominated for a national award for excellence, and just had terrific academics and a good program in itself.”
On the basketball court, it didn’t take long for Cloud to notice her fitness level.
“You couldn’t tire her out,” Cloud said. “Her endurance was unbelievable.”
Born in Maine to parents Rick and Margaret, Ladd moved with her family to Alaska in the third grade, where the Ladds took root in Dillingham for three years, before ultimately settling in Homer.
Ladd credits her parents for shaping the kind of person she’s become and helping to raise her four children, Andrew, Catherine, Daniel and William, who range in age from 8 to 17. Ladd calls New England home these days, and resides in Vermont as a special education teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy. Her son Andrew is a 6-foot-6 high school freshman who she calls a “phenomenal basketball player,” and daughter Katherine Cowan is already a state champion and record holder in the high jump.
Ladd attributes the success of the Mariners basketball and running programs in her years at Homer High to the philosophy the coaches instilled in the athletes.
“When you experience winning, you get that taste in your mouth,” she said. “And when you lose, it’s not a good feeling, you almost cry.
“We loved to win.”
A four-year all-state track member, Ladd won three state track titles her junior year, nabbing crowns in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, and two her senior year in the 800 and 1,600.
The running success translated into a running scholarship at Texas A&M, where she ran the 5,000 in the cross-country season and the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 events in the indoor and outdoor track seasons. Ladd studied for a degree in Recreation Parks and Tourism Finances.
While there, she came to appreciate the small town where she grew up. Plus, the heat and lack of hills and mountains wasn’t conducive to her style of running.
“I look back now and I think the best times were those memories,” Ladd said about her years in Homer. “You look back and those good times make you smile, sharing them with your children and students.”
LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN
As a seven-time state champion in various sports, Jody Hensen-Reding was named the Alaska Basketball Player of the Year as a senior in 1991.
Ladd said she and Reding were close friends since the day the met in seventh grade, and recalls fondly the many times the two would play a practical joke or prank on a fellow teammate.
“Everywhere we went on trips, whether it was basketball or track, we always had little practical jokes,” Ladd said. “She was an amazing friend, incredibly gifted.”
Consistently named to the honor roll, Hensen-Reding was a leader both on and off the court. Cloud said her style of play alongside Ladd frustrated opponents tremendously.
“Those two players really made me look good,” Cloud said.
Both Cloud and Ladd noted that Hensen-Reding’s success on the court was all the more impressive and respectable after the passing of her father to a rare brain disease her sophomore year. In a written statement on the Alaska Hall of Fame website, Reding was able to move on from the tragedy by drawing upon her inner strength and ultimately took her basketball talents to the hardwood at Northern Arizona University on a full scholarship.
Reding also coached women’s basketball at several colleges, including the University of Alaska Anchorage.
ON CLOUD NINE
Cloud provided the orchestration and guidance for the Homer girls hoops contingent that racked up three straight state crowns from 1989 to 1991, and those trophies are just about the only things that stand above the accomplishment of being voted into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame.
“I was really surprised when I got the call for this,” Cloud said about his induction as a coach, adding that working with a team of high-caliber players is something he enjoyed the most.
“You can’t beat it when you’re with the kids.”
Cloud not only coached basketball, but also served as an assistant with the football and track and field teams for many of his 16 years in Homer, where he still lives with his wife, Melissa, a former elementary school teacher and Teacher of the Year award recipient for Alaska.
Born and raised in Whitefish, Montana, Cloud’s playing career took him to Western Montana College (now University of Montana Western) where he graduated in 1979.
That year proved to be a big one for Cloud, who also married his wife and moved to Alaska. Cloud said he tossed all his belongings into the back of a pickup truck and moved with his wife to Metlakatla for three years, taking over coaching duties at the small high school.
While in Metlakatla, Cloud oversaw a diminutive basketball program that defeated Juneau in a Southeast tournament and went as far as the state semifinal, losing to powerhouse East Anchorage by a single point.
“I remember that being a David versus Goliath thing,” Cloud said.
Cloud moved to Homer in 1983, where he took up work as a teacher at Homer High. Cloud also worked as a fishing guide in the summers for 15 years.
It was 1986 when Cloud took over a struggling Homer girls hoops program from Homer legend Alice Witte, the name that adorns the Homer gymnasium. All it took was one year to get the Mariners to the state tournament, where they eventually rounded into form as a state juggernaut, winning three straight.
“We had quite the dynasty back in those days,” he said.
Cloud recounted that first year with the girls team, starting with a slow start.
“As the season went on, we started to pick up a win here and a win there, and by the region tournament, we were a low seed going in but we won three straight games to win regions,” he said.
With a mixture of upperclassmen and younger players, Cloud had a dynamic group that could scrap it out with the best teams in the state, but also mentioned his assistant coaching staff that included Wayne Clark, Wendy Todd and Deb Lowney. With them, Cloud was able to build a team based on three crucial areas of focus — the cognitive, the interpersonal and the intrapersonal.
“We had a pretty articulate culture in the program,” he said. “We were a young team, pretty much the same players for three years, and they stepped up and accepted the culture we were trying to build, and they were phenomenal about it. We had such good rapport and respect, you could push the limit as far as you wanted to.”
Ladd recalls Cloud as a coach that didn’t choose starting lineups based on age or rank, but rather simply on talent and drive, noting that several seniors on the team were passed over in favor of better, more promising underclassmen.
“He was all business, and we respected him,” Ladd said. “As you get older and you’re a parent and coach, you realize, ‘Wow that was a good coach.’