Buser, King, Johnston headline Class of ’17 induction ceremony
A couple of champions from the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and a legend from the Native Games world are headed to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Dog mushing moguls Martin Buser and Jeff King joined World Eskimo Indian Olympics icon Nicole Johnston as individuals inducted with the Class of 2017 at tonight’s ceremony at the Anchorage Museum.
Other inductions included the moment mountaineering legend Vern Tejas became the first solo climber to complete a winter ascent of the 20,310-foot Denali in 1988 and in the event category the longtime Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race.
“We’re excited about the Class of 2017,” said Alaska Sports Hall of Fame executive director Harlow Robinson. “The inductees represent classically Alaskan sports. It’s a group of household names in our state that have been in the discussion for induction for many years.”
This is the 11th class inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Buser is a four-time winner of the 1,100-mile Iditarod and currently holds the race record for most consecutive finishes with 31. He has registered 19 top-10 finishes, including 14 straight from 1987-2000.
In 2002, his team ran a record time of 8 days and 22 hours – a mark that stood for nine years.
The Big Lake musher was awarded the coveted Leonhard Seppala Award for humanitarian dog care an unprecedented five times in 1988, 1993, 1995 and 1997 and 2014.
King is another four-time winner of the Last Great Race, but his winning pedigree extends beyond the Iditarod.
The Denali Park musher has possibly collected more race titles than any other distance and mid-distance musher in the world.
In addition to his success in marathons like the Iditarod, Yukon Quest and the International Rocky Mountain Stage Stop, King has lived up to his name by winning the Kuskokwim 300 nine times, the Tustumena 200 three times and Copper Bain 300 twice.
Johnston collected more than 100 career medals in major Native Games competition like WEIO, the Native Youth Olympics and Arctic Winter Games.
She learned the games in Nome and emerged as her generation’s greatest champion. Later she became an ambassador of the sport, traveling the state to teach skills to the next generation.
Her versatility is as renowned as her durability. She won technical events like the kneel jump, strength events like the arm pull and athletic events like the high kick.
Johnston’s two-foot high kick record of 6 feet, 6 inches set in 1989 stood for 25 years.
Tejas became a household name in Alaska in 1988 when he became the first climber to complete a solo winter ascent of Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley – the tallest peak in North America.
The three-day Fur Rondy sprint race dates back to 1946 and has been voted “Best Event” by the International Sled Dog Racing Association. The event attracts many of the world’s best sprint mushers, who guide their teams past cheering crowds that line city streets and trails.
In addition, the Directors’ Awards were handed out.
The 2017 winners were:
Pride of Alaska Award (female)-–For Consistent Excellence in Athletic Competition
Morgan Hooe – Hooe, a senior setter from Anchorage, was the heartbeat of the UAA volleyball team that advanced to the NCAA Division II national championship match. Hooe became the first setter in UAA history to be named an All-American in 2015 (a feat she duplicated in 2016) and helped lead the Seawolves to a 61-6 record over her last two seasons. She finished as UAA’s all-time leader in assists with 3,920. Hooe’s reputation as a fierce competitor was displayed during the regional tournament, when she returned from injury and rallied her team to victory. Hooe’s community service and academic achievements reflected the same integrity that she brought to the court.
Pride of Alaska Award (male)–For Consistent Excellence in Athletic Competition
David Norris – In his first attempt at Seward’s Mount Marathon Race in 2016, Norris broke the record established by Kilian Jornet, regarded as the world’s best mountain runner. Two weeks earlier, Norris set a new standard at the Bird Ridge mountain race. A member of APU’s elite nordic ski team, the Fairbanks native also claimed the largest ski marathon in the country, the American Birkebeiner, by winning a dramatic sprint against six Europeans in 2016. He aspires to qualify for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
Joe Floyd Award–For Significant and Lasting Contribution to Alaska through Sports
Mao Tosi – After excelling in basketball and football at Anchorage’s East High School and then at the University of Idaho, Tosi played three seasons for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League before an injury forced an early retirement. He then returned to Anchorage and created a non-profit organization for at-risk youth, AK P.R.I.D.E. (Alaskan People Representing Integrity and Diverse Experiences). The program has received national recognition and has helped thousands of Anchorage youth foster skills and develop self-esteem in sports and the arts. A recipient of Alaska’s Top 40 Under 40 Award, Tosi remains a tireless advocate for youth in Anchorage.
Trajan Langdon Award—For Leadership, Sportsmanship and Inspiration
Damen Bell-Holter – A native of Hydaburg and graduate of Ketchikan High School, Bell-Holter played basketball at Oral Roberts University before competing in the National Basketball Association’s Development League. He now competes professionally in Italy. Growing up, Bell-Holter was surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and other reckless behavior and now speaks to youth about suicide prevention, obesity and other issues. A member of the Haida Nation, Bell-Holter returns to Alaska every summer and mentors children through his Blessed 2 Bless basketball camp, which is steered by the mission to “give back to youth through the game of basketball.”