It’s over 3,400 miles to the East Hall boys basketball teams’ next tournament.
There, the average high temperature for January is 22 degrees Fahrenheit; the average low is 9 degrees.
Anchorage, Alaska is not just another tournament destination.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” East Hall coach Joe Dix said.
Tournaments are one of the most anticipated, and most useful, parts of a high school basketball season.
In Hall County local schools went for bragging rights in the annual Lanierland tournament. In Towns County schools from four states battled in the North Georgia mountains. And the Class AA defending state champion Buford girls tested themselves against the best in the country in Phoenix at the Nike Tournament of Champions.
The East Hall boys could be tested by the elements as much as their opponents in their second tournament of the season.
The Vikings are headed to the country’s northernmost state for the eighth annual Alaska Airlines Classic, running from Jan. 12-14 at West High in Anchorage.
In prior years, the furthest the team has gone for a tournament has been Tampa, Fla., a 50-minute flight, or Charleston, S.C.
Dix said that 11 of his players have never flown before.
“They’ll get their fill of flying,” he added.
None of the players have been to Alaska, and only one member of the coaching staff has.
It’s also a four hour time difference, something the Vikings will need to adjust to, if they have the time. The team will play three games in three days and then head back home to resume subregion play.
East Hall isn’t the first Georgia team to play in the tournament. Last January, Columbia High in Decatur, another of Georgia’s top programs historically, was one of three teams outside of Alaska to play in the tournament.
East Hall was actually supposed to play last year, but already had another tournament scheduled, Dix said. The athletic director at West High in Anchorage, David Williamson, had coached in Georgia in the 90s and was familiar with the Vikings’ program.
“I told him that if you invited us next year that we’d work on it,” Dix said. “We were able to work it out.”
The team will be doing more than just playing basketball. The county had wanted the trip to include some educational experiences, so the Vikings will attend an Alaskan Heritage class at West High, visit the heritage museum, and, if weather permits, the team will trek into the wild outdoors surrounding the state’s largest city.
And all this will be done in just a few days, sandwiched between the meat of the 8-AA subregion schedule.
The Vikings aren’t the only team going across the country for a basketball tournament. The West High team played at Columbia High School in Atlanta last week. The Alaskan team played Buford last Tuesday.
Who knew the Georgia-Alaska high school basketball pipeline was so strong?
East Hall will be following close on the heels of its tournament hosts after playing games at St. Francis on Friday and then a pair of home games against subregion foes Banks County and Dawson County. Fannin County awaits East Hall’s return from Alaska.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Dix said. “This is a whole different animal.”
And the possibility of seeing a whole lot of animals not seen in the Southeast certainly means that this won’t be just another high school basketball tournament experience.
“It’ll be more than just a basketball tournament,” Dix said. “And the kids are excited to go.”
East Hall already had to do some fundraising in advance for the trip, and primary sponsor Alaska Airlines has helped with some of the costs, but support is still appreciated, said Dix. Contact Dix at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Zac Taylor is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.