Futsal Team Alaska

From left, Ketchikan’s Kelvin Jiang, Alex Gilley and Joseph Larson stand in front of a futsal net earlier this month at the Gateway Recreation Center. The trio will compete with Team Alaska during the 50th anniversary of the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada in March. Photo by Danielle Larson

This spring will be a First City first.

Ketchikan’s Alex Gilley, Joseph Larson and Kelvin Jiang will make history next month when the trio participates with Team Alaska’s futsal squad at the 2020 Arctic Winter Games. They’ll be the first members from the First City to compete in futsal at the Arctic Games, which will mark its 50th anniversary this year.

“It’s kind of a cool deal. It’s a cultural experience,” said Mike Medford, director of the Tongass Timbers Soccer Club. “I think there are teams from Greenland and Denmark and Russia and Canada. So it’s going to be a pretty cool experience for them.”

Futsal, a modified version of indoor soccer, is played in a smaller hard-court setting, and is typically 5-on-5.

The trio will join teammates from across the state, and compete against eight other squads, including Alberta North (Canada), Northwest Territories (Canada), Nunavik-Quebec (Canada), Nunavut (Canada), Sápmi (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia), Yamal (Russia), Yukon (Canada) and Greenland.

Gilley will compete with the junior squad, along with other players who were born in 2005 or later. Larson and Jiang will participate with the juvenile team, along with the players born in 2007 or later.

The girls’ bracket also has an intermediate division, for players born in 2003 or later.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like the Arctic Games,” Gilley said. “So I’m pretty nervous and excited.”

The Arctic Winter Games will run from March 15-21 in Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada. The first futsal competition is scheduled for March 16, following the opening ceremonies on March 15.

The trio will join teammates from across the state, and compete against eight other squads, including Alberta North (Canada), Northwest Territories (Canada), Nunavik-Quebec (Canada), Nunavut (Canada), Sápmi (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia), Yamal (Russia), Yukon (Canada) and Greenland.

“We’ve got quite a few kids — boys and girls — that are on the Alaska ODP, Olympic Development Program teams (too),” Medford said. “So we’ve got good Ketchikan representation that we haven’t had for a long time.

“We’ve had players make the (soccer) ODP teams for Alaska (prior) to the Tongass Timbers (starting in Fall 2018),” he continued. “But I think Tongass Timbers has opened up some avenues that weren’t there before. Coaches are able to see players that they haven’t seen before. So it’s going well.”

And that’s exactly what happened this go-around.

Within the state, every futsal program must be represented on Team Alaska. And with the Tongass Timbers in full swing, Ketchikan futsal has been put on Team Alaska head coach Will Lucero’s radar.

Lucero, who lives in Anchorage, reached out to Medford. And when Tongass Timbers was in Anchorage during the Alaska Futsal State Cup in December, Lucero scouted their games.

“(He) requested names of players in different age groups,” Medford said. “And then when we were up in Anchorage ... that solidified it.”

Gilley, now 13, began playing soccer when he was six years old. He found it to be the closest sport to hockey, after moving here from Texas.

Larson, now 12 years old, moved to Ketchikan from Boise, Idaho a few years ago. He latched onto soccer after he wasn’t able to find many football options for youngsters.

He’s been playing soccer for about three or four years, now.

“I started playing soccer and I was really good at it, and really liked it,” Larson said.

They both enjoy the competition.

“I like the challenge of going against older kids that are so much more experienced and just learning (from them),” Gilley said.

Team Alaska’s junior futsal squad — the team Gilley will join — finished second at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, falling to Team Greenland, 8-2, in the championship match.

The juvenile futsal squad — Larson and Jiang’s team — finished fifth in 2018, falling to Team Greenland’s juvenile squad 8-0 in its final match.

Team Alaska placed second overall in the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, receiving 125 medals — 51 gold, 38 silver and 36 bronze. Team Alberta North won the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, receiving 133 total medals.

In addition to futsal, participants will go head-to-head in alpine skiing, Native youth Arctic sports, archery, badminton, basketball, biathlon skiing, biathlon snowshoe, cross country skiing, table tennis, volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics, hockey, curling, dog mushing, figure skating, snowshoeing, snowboarding, speed skating and dene games, which combine traditional and cultural values.

In all, 2,000 athletes will compete in March.

Since 1970, the Arctic Winter Games have been a mainstay every two years. Alaska has hosted the Games six times between Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula. Alaska last hosted the Arctic Games in Fairbanks in 2014.

Nuuk, Greenland also has hosted events in 2002 and 2016, sharing responsibilities with Iqaluit, Nunavut in Canada.

This will be Whitehorse’s seventh time hosting the week-long event.

The 2022 Arctic Winter Games will be in Wood Buffalo, Alberta in Canada.