(7-30-22) The Barrow (Alaska) High School’s football team has a history that was made for a movie or TV or even a book.
The story of high school football in Barrow all started in 2006, by 2007 they had a beautiful turf field in place.
Starting a football program can be a big adventure in a normal setting in the Midwest, but above the Arctic Circle it can be more then putting players on the field. That is what makes this story special, very special.
The football field sits between the Arctic Ocean and the lagoon
In 2007, thanks to the support of a Florida High School, Bartram Trail (near Jacksonville), who helped to raise funds to put a turf field in place for the Whalers to play on. Barrow HS, a long way from Jacksonville, is the farthest most north town in the US, above the Arctic Circle.
Travel expenses for both the Whalers and the visiting teams is very expensive and a lot of time and effort goes into the logistics and putting a schedule together…playing the games can usually be the easiest part of the process.
Alaska football teams started practicing the week of July 20th, with first games starting on August 13th.
The Whalers open up at home with Nikiski, a 764 miles south of Barrow. The schedule features 4 home games and 3 away games (according to MaxPreps). Their first away game is at Kodiak which is 941 miles.
Other trip lengths – 517 miles to Ben Eielson AFB, conference games are not any closer.. 694 miles to Houston, 817 miles to Homer, 699 miles to play Redington and 757 miles to Kenai. That’s a lot of miles to travel for everyone. Every home opponent has to be into flown to Barrow.
…and it is 3,914 miles from Barrow to Jacksonville, Florida.
In 2017 Barrow went into U.S. high school football history beating Homer 20-14 and their first state title coming in D III, the Whalers joined Barrow’s 2011 squad and the 2010 Anaktuvuk Pass Wolves’ squad as the only teams in the Arctic Circle to have competed for state football titles.
- Late stand lifts Whalers to first state football title
- Hudl Video Highlights of State Championship Game
A pledge to build a playable turf field….
Cathy Parker when watching a 2006 segment on the conditions that Barrow players had to practice and play in – notably on dirt and gravel and using flour to line the field…she went full speed ahead with her plan.
Cathy Parker has written a book about her story, how it came into place and a pledge to help Barrow HS with a suitable football playing surface.
Northern Lights: One Woman, Two Teams, and the Football Field That Changed Their Lives – purchase on AMAZON
Life is hard in Barrow, Alaska. Football mom Cathy Parker first caught a glimpse of this far-away reality from the comfort of her Jacksonville, Florida, living room while watching a 2006 ESPN report on the Barrow Whalers, a high school football team consisting mostly of Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo natives playing in the most difficult of conditions and trying to overcome the most unlikely of odds. These players—raised in the northernmost town in the United States, where drug abuse is rampant and the high school dropout rate is high—found themselves playing on a gravel field, using flour to draw the lines. And while the community of Barrow felt a strong pride for their boys, many felt football was not worth the investment. That is, until Cathy Parker became involved.
Overcome by a surprising stirring in her soul to reach out and help, Cathy was determined to build a suitable field for the Barrow Whalers. Not fully understanding the many obstacles, both financially and logistically, that would line the path ahead, Cathy charged forward with a determined spirit and a heart for both the football team and the greater community of Barrow. She spearheaded a campaign that raised more than half-a-million dollars through people all around the country rallying around one common goal: changing the lives of young men through football.
This is not just the story of how the Barrow Whalers became the first high school above the Arctic Circle to have a football program. This is the story of how we are sometimes called to the most unlikely of causes and to believe in something a little bit bigger, changing our own lives and the lives of others for the better in the most unexpected of ways.
Yes…the field is named in her honor Cathy Parker Field.
News4Jax – You Tube Video – Cathy Parker felt a calling after seeing an ESPN feature on a high school football team in the struggling community of Barrow, Alaska. She ultimately was able to raise more than half a million. LINK to purchase Northern Lights
Project Alaska Turf
In February 2007, Project Alaska Turf was started by .Project Alaska Turf was inspired by an Emmy Award winning ESPN documentary by Wayne Drehs on a community in Barrow, Alaska. The documentary focused on a football program that was implemented in order to reverse high teen suicide rates, accelerated drop out rates and increased teen drug abuse. Project Alaska Turf was funded by Bartram Trail, the Jacksonville Jaguars, ProGrass and the Grimes Companies. The project was aimed at raising money to provide a football team, the Barrow Whalers, an artificial turf field to replace their gravel-covered field. Since Barrow, Alaska is above the Artic Circle, grass doesn’t grow there, resulting in their football field being made of dirt and gravel and causing injury to the players. The original goal was to raise $500,000 to make the field, but the ending target was eventually set to $800,000. The money covered the cost of buying, shipping and installing all one hundred and sixty tons of turf.
The Barrow Whalers were invited to Florida on May 17 through the May 19 but the Whalers didn’t arrive until June. Restaurateurs and other business owners provided them free room and board upon their arrival. During their visit to Jacksonville, they toured Jacksonville Municpal Staduim, where they ate lunch with several Jacksonville Jaguar players.
The field was completed with $700,000 generated from the donation; $100,000 short of the goal. The Bartram Trail (located in Jacksonville, Florida) community worked for a long period of time and managed to move the field from Florida to Alaska by trucks, boats, trains, and on airplanes with help from ten different companies. The field was opened in time for the Barrow Whalers first game on August 17, 2007, which they won, 18-16, after being down by two touchdowns with three minutes left in the game. The game was the first live internet broadcast of a sporting event in the United States from north of the Arctic Circle and had NBC, ABC, ESPN, and most of Alaska’s media there to cover the event.
The NFL Network docuseries
Add to that special Whalers history the NFL Network did a docuseries – NFL Network ventures to Alaska to cover the story of the northern-most high school football team in America. Watch “Football Town: Barrow, Alaska” on NFL Network.
Did you know…
How many schools have football teams in Alaska. In 2021 Division I had 8 teams, Division II has 9 teams and Division III has 10 teams. Last season the Whalers were in the Mid Alaska Conference that includes Barrow, Homer, Houston, Kenai Central and Redington.
In an October 4, 2016, referendum, Barrow voters narrowly approved to change its name to Utqiaġvik, which became official on December 1. City Council member Qaiyaan Harcharek described the name change as supporting use of the Iñupiaq language and being part of a process of decolonization.