The talent pool is deep for Alaska high school sports stars, but the cream of the crop always rises to the top.
Three teens in particular have been recognized by the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame for displaying winning characteristics in competition and demonstrating championship character in life.
Dimond basketball star Alissa Pili, Service cross-country Skimeister Gus Schumacher and Soldotna football standout Brenner Furlong have been selected among an elite group of finalists as winners of the inaugural Directors’ Youth Awards. To see a full list of finalists, click here.
“Alaska has gone several years without any type of statewide, sportswide recognition for outstanding high school-aged athletic achievement,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. “We felt the time was past due to bring this type of award back and we plan to make this an annual tradition.”
Pili was the girls choice and Schumacher the boys pick for the Pride of Alaska Award, and Furlong won the Trajan Langdon Award. The youth awards are an extension of the adult awards that started in 2012.
The winners were selected by the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame board of directors after a public submission process.
No doubt Dimond High sports star Alissa Pili cares about winning, but she might care more about being a good teammate and a good sport with opponents. Character and championships are not mutually exclusive in her book. The 6-footer is in large supply of both as she continues to carve out a prestigious prep career by winning her eighth state title in her fourth sport. Now she’s an inaugural winner of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame’s Pride of Alaska Award. “I appreciate this award very much and am thankful for receiving it, but honestly I don’t let all these individual awards get to my head,” Pili told me. “I want to be remembered as not just a great player, but a great person. I want to be remembered as someone who plays with heart and passion and stays humble.” The two-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year led the undefeated and nationally ranked Lynx girls basketball team to a state title with a 22-point, 20-rebound performance in the championship game. She also owns state titles in track and field, wrestling and volleyball. “Finally winning a state title in basketball was the best feeling ever and I’m glad I got to experience it with such an amazing group of people,” she said. The NCAA D1 prospect has been offered a college scholarship from Saint Mary’s, BYU, Hawaii and Butler. Pili is the kind of role model younger players can look up to. “I am very proud to be in that kind of position and to motivate and inspire other kids to do what they love.”
To say that Service’s Gus Schumacher excels in skiing is a vast understatement. He was the highest-ranking junior at the 2018 Nordic national championships and anchored the historic, silver-medal winning U.S. relay team at the World Junior Championships. He was Skimeister at the Alaska state championships for the second time and helped the Cougars to the team title, and he earned two podiums at the 2018 Junior Nationals. “I try to represent it well and make it seem like a cool thing,” he told me. “I like it a lot. It’s hard to be a good skier without liking it a lot because there is so much hard, monotonous work.” There’s nothing dull about Schumacher. The 17-year-old was picked as an inaugural winner of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame’s Pride of Alaska Award. “That made me feel great, especially to be among the inaugural winners and with so many great candidates,” he said. “When I see the list of candidates it makes me feel so good to be in that pool among some really great Alaska athletes.” A senior at Service who also competes for the Alaska Winter Stars, Schumacher is a 4.0 student who has competed on both the cross-country running and cross-country ski teams. As a runner, Schumacher won the state championship in his junior year before sitting out his senior year to focus on skiing. Now that his prep career is finished, he will focus on the next level. Not in college, but the national circuit. “I absolutely advocate for skiing. I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s hard to be a good skier without liking it a lot because there is so much hard, monotonous work.”
A senior at Soldotna, Brenner Furlong serves his community, school and family with exemplary dedication and rigor. He’s prouder of his selfless service than his athletic achievements. And although most people know him for his play under the bright lights, you could say his best work comes when nobody is looking. His combined class and competitiveness helped Furlong win the inaugural Alaska Sports Hall of Fame Trajan Langdon Award for his leadership, sportsmanship and inspiration. “For someone else to recognize that is a huge honor and I’d like to say thank you,” he told me. He was Gatorade Alaska Football Player of the Year in 2016-17 and a two-time Offensive Player of the Year on the gridiron, 400-meter state champion in track and pays special attention to kids who need extra help, either due to a physical disability or in need of additional support with rides or help studying. Furlong can usually be found hanging out with a fellow student who is in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, and he consistently mentors younger players, carrying on a tradition in the Stars football program that did not lose a game in his career. He learned how to be a winner on and off the field from legendary Soldotna coach Galen Brantley. “He taught us how to respect other people and grow up to be good men,” Furlong said. “He would tell us, ‘If I taught you just how to win football games but you’re a horrible guy, then I failed as a coach.’” Furlong wants to dedicate this award to Brantley. “That’s why I’m super, super thankful to win this award,” he said. “Not in my honor, but in his honor. Thank you, coach, for teaching me the right way.”