First Arctic Playoff Football Game A Frozen Delight

Taking football on the “frozen tundra” to a whole new level, the Barrow High School Whalers in Alaska won the first high school playoff game ever played north of the Arctic Circle on Saturday. The cheerleaders were looking good too, going as far as showing a little nose:

Barrow cheerleader

(Photo by Eric Engman of the FAIRBANKS NEWS-MINER)

In temperatures that reached a balmy (for this time of year) 28 degrees, with 25 mile-per-hour winds and snow covering the field, Barrow beat Houston (a school in the Anchorage area) 46-18 in the state quarterfinals. While NFL playoff games have seen harsher conditions, those games are played in January, when the average high in Barrow is minus-8 and the sun never comes up.

Barrow is the northernmost settlement on the North American mainland, a town of 4,000 that is reachable only by plane. The school started a football team in 2006 but had to play on a dirt field because grass doesn’t grow that far north.

The school received some exposure on ESPN that year due to the unusual challenges faced by the school in fielding team. A Florida woman named Cathy Parker helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to have an artificial turf field installed in town. The Boise State-inspired blue field opened in 2007, but it was completely obscured by snow on Saturday.

Barrow Field

Just two years removed from playing on dirt and struggling to win games, the Whalers find themselves 8-1 and two victories from a state title.

Danny Martin of the FAIRBANKS NEWS-MINER has the recap of the big game:

“It means a lot to the community and all the players,” junior running back Anthony Edwards said. “The next game, we’re going to bring it.”

Edwards rushed Saturday for a career-high 269 yards on 23 carries and contributed a 30-yard touchdown sprint in the first quarter for an 18-0 lead.

The Whalers’ next game is in Anchorage next weekend, and they would have to travel again to Anchorage the following week for the championship game if they win. Travel to and from games for Barrow and its opponents can cost as much as $20,000. It’s about a two-hour flight each way to Anchorage.

Houston’s coach admitted that his team wasn’t really prepared for the whole experience:

“Our kids were still wheeling on the weather and thinking about staying warm. They (Barrow) had already prepared for that and came out mentally ready to go.”

The field is located just yards from the Arctic Ocean, and the wind often howls, pushing wind chills to well below zero. During practice on Friday, Barrow’s place kicker couldn’t get an extra point over the crossbar because of a fierce headwind.

Barrow football

Photo by Eric Engman

In unrelated news, a confused Andruw Jones was seen wandering near the field before the game. “They told me that I was getting my own special charter to go to Chicago. But I’ve had a really long layover here. I hope I get there in time for Game 1.”