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Six finalists for the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame’s Trajan Langdon Award showed grit, compassion, resiliency and more

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, Cover Story, Directors' Award

The Alaska Sports Hall of Fame’s annual Trajan Langdon Award recognizes those who demonstrate leadership, integrity and sportsmanship.

Finalists vying for this year’s awards have displayed those qualities, and quite a few more. Grit. Resiliency. Compassion. Commitment. Generosity. Drive.

Among the nominees for the adult-division award, the Hoogendorn brothers of Nome — Oliver and Wilson — had the grit needed to win the “Race to Survive: Alaska” reality show and uplift their community.

Tyson Gilbert had the resiliency — and the heart, as it turns out — to guide the UAA men’s basketball team to the NCAA Tournament despite sitting out for two years, first because he needed open-heart surgery and then because he tore his Achilles tendon.

Matthew Failor of Willow chose compassion over competition during the Iditarod, putting aside his ambitions in order to provide comfort and companionship to a fellow musher who was upended by the death of a dog during the race.

Among the finalists for the youth-division award, Manusiu Muti of Utqiagvik showed her dedication to girls wrestling by mentoring and inspiring young girls to give the sport a shot in the basketball-crazy village.

Cross-country skiers from several Fairbanks high schools were generous with their time when a huge snowstorm stranded them in Valdez for a couple of extra days this winter — they went out and shoveled driveways around town, including at the town’s Senior Center.

And the Petersburg Vikings, driven by their sense of team and community, found strength in unity to finish the boys basketball season with a seven-game winning streak that turned a .500 team into state champions.

The Petersburg boys basketball team.

Winners will be announced next week and honored at the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Tuesday, April 30, at the Anchorage Museum.

The Trajan Langdon awards are among seven Directors Awards chosen by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors.

Others are the Joe Floyd Award, which recognizes significant and lasting contribution to Alaska sports, and the Pride of Alaska awards, which are presented to the year’s top athletes or teams in four categories (men, women, boys, girls).

The induction ceremony will also include the enshrinement of the Class of 2024 — musher Dallas Seavey, runner Allie Ostrander and Special Olympics athlete Bobby Hill, who will be inducted as individuals, and the 2000 NHL Rookie-of-the-Year award won by Scott Gomez, which will be inducted as a moment.

Here’s a closer look at the Trajan Landon Award finalists:

Youth Finalists:

Fairbanks ski teams — When a snowstorm closed the Richardson Highway and stranded skiers from four Fairbanks high school in Valdez, the city helped house and entertain about 80 high school kids and coaches for an extra three days. The snowed-in students from West Valley, Lathrop, North Pole and Hutchison showed their appreciation by shoveling driveways for residents.

“They borrowed some shovels from our maintenance department and went out and asked various residents if they needed help shoveling their driveways,” Valdez athletic director Todd Wegner told the Anchorage Daily News. “It was much appreciated.”

Members of the West Valley High School cross-country ski team pictured shoveling snow for locals in Valdez. Photo by Donna DiFolco

Manusiu Muti, Utqiagvik — Barrow High School’s first girl to win a state wrestling championship used her success to draw more girls to the sport, working with middle school wrestlers and showing them possibilities.

A two-time state champ, Muti is on track to become the school’s first girl to wrestle in college — she recently signed a letter of intent with McKendree University of Illinois, a Division II women’s wrestling powerhouse.

Manusiu Muti player page from the Barrow Whalers Facebook page.

 

Petersburg basketball team — On their march to the Class 2A boys state championship, the Vikings displayed brains, compassion and teamwork. They compiled a team GPA of 3.67, they put on a free clinic for kids and they made their annual cancer-awareness night extra-special by honoring team manager Joseph Tagaban, who is battling leukemia.

The Vikings were 11-10 before winning their last seven games to claim the Class 2A state championship. “We knew our margin of error was very slim and we had to play our best basketball and we’d have to do it together,” coach Rick Brock said. “We’re a good defensive team. We play a half-court man defense, and to do that you have to work together.”

Past youth winners
2023: Geremu Daggett and Colton Merriner, Grace cross country
2022: Jeremy Lane, Point Lay student athlete
2021: West Post 1 Legion Baseball Team
2020: Houston High Boys Football Team
2019: South High Boys Basketball Team
2018: Brenner Furlong, Soldotna

Adult Finalists:

Matt Failor, mushing — Failor put his own ambitions on pause late in the Iditarod so he could spend time supporting a musher whose race ended when one of his dogs died on the trail. After a dog on Hunter Keefe’s team collapsed and died between Kaltag and Unalakleet, about 650 miles into the 1,000-mile race, Failor stayed with Keefe at a shelter cabin and then spent nearly 10 hours with him in Unalakleet, where Keefe was obliged to scratch because of race rules regarding dead dogs.

Matt Failor. This image was a screen capture taken during an interview with the Iditarod Insider website.

According to the Iditarod, Keefe nominated Failor for the Iditarod’s Sportsmanship Award, saying that “even on his worst day he wasn’t alone” because of Failor. Failor won the award, as well as the Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award, which is given to the musher who best reflects Nayokpuk’s joyous attitude on the trail.

Tyson Gilbert, basketball — His story could be a 30-for-30 documentary: Open-heart surgery. A torn Achilles tendon. Two arduous rehabs that sidelined him for two years. Then, in his senior season with the UAA men’s basketball team, Gilbert led the Seawolves to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years.

Tyson Gilbert. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Gilbert discovered he had a congenital heart defect shortly after he transferred to UAA prior to his junior year — he collapsed during his first open-gym session with his new teammates. Heart surgery was a success, but the torn Achilles delayed his comeback another year. He returned to lead UAA in scoring for two straight seasons and was a first-team all-conference pick as a senior.

Off the court, the team captain accumulated about 500 hours of community service and made the all-conference academic team with a 3.58 GPA. UAA sports information director Nate Sagan called Gilbert “the best example of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen.”

Wilson and Oliver Hoogendorn.

Hoogendorn brothers, Oliver and Wilson — The brothers from Nome captured a $500,000 prize for winning the USA Network survival competition reality show, “Race to Survive: Alaska.”

A big crowd gathered in Nome’s Katirvik Cultural Center to watch the show’s finale last June, and a few months later the Alaska Federation of Natives honored the brothers with the Walter Soboleff “Warriors of Light” Award, which recognizes those “who uplift our people, enrich our spirits and unify Alaska Native people.”

The brothers, who are Inupiaq, are in their mid-20s. In 2019, they summited Denali and skied down the mountain, and more recently they biked the Pan-America Highway, taking a sidetrip in Argentina to climb Aconcagua, which at 22,837 feet is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.

Past adult winners (adult and youth combined before 2018)
2023: Vanessa Aniteye
2022: Hannah Halverson
2021: Billy Strickland
2020: Israel Hale
2019: Andy Beardsely and Larsen Klingel
2018: DaJonee Hale
2017: Damen Bell-Holter
2016: Laci Effenberger
2015: Aliy Zirkle
2014: Marko Cheseto
2013: Paul Tandy
2012: Chugiak High School football team

Story made possible by:

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Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

Family of Sponsors

Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

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