Herb Didrickson was given the perfect Tlingit name, Junkhateen, which translates in English to “fast or quick hands.”
A great all-around athlete of mixed ancestry — Tlingit and Norwegian — the 5-foot-10 Didrickson outran, outpassed, outshot and even outjumped opponents almost a foot taller.
Considered by many as the Jim Thorpe of Alaska, Didrickson dominated in basketball, baseball, track and field and cross country while growing up in the Southeast community of Sitka. He ruled the courts, diamonds and fields at Sheldon Jackson High School and Sheldon Jackson Junior College in the 1940s.
His reputation spread across the state as an iconic player on a great Sitka Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) team in the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament and other local, regional and national events. Born in 1926, he helped lead teams to victory until 1990.
Legendary Alaska sportscaster Steve Agbaba called him “the most exciting athlete I have ever watched in any sport.”
Many believe Didrickson could have competed professionally – the Seattle Rainiers wanted him to play minor league baseball – but he chose to remain in Sitka with his wife Pollyanna, his friends and his neighbors. When he wasn’t working as a fisherman or teacher, he volunteered as a coach, referee and mentor to many.
Didrickson was the first person inducted into the Gold Medal Hall of Fame, a member of the first class to enter the Alaska High School Hall of Fame, and received similar honors from Sitka ANB and the Sheldon Jackson schools. Sitka residents named a street and school gymnasium after him.
Longtime friend and former high school athletic director Gil Truitt calls Didrickson “the ultimate good guy,” a humble man who exhibited “the finest sportsmanship of anyone I know.”
— Mike Sica