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Alaska disaster responders find hope in repairing basketball court (Greater Northwest)

May 25, 2023

Recently, two disaster response team members from the California-Pacific Conference traveled to remote Alaska with the idea they were going to focus solely on assessing damage caused to homes by last fall’s Typhoon Merbok, when they stumbled upon a pick-up game of basketball with kids and an opportunity arose.

The team spent more than a week assessing 65 homes and determining their viability and repair requirements. On one of the days, California-Pacific Conference Disaster Response Team lead Paul Lorson and Cal-Pac Disaster Recovery Coordinator Karl Ports were walking back to their housing – an old Alaska National Guard barrack – when they passed the school and basketball court. The basketball court had been damaged and actually started floating away in the storm.

As they passed by, they watched as kids were playing on the court and one of the basketball players went for a rebound. As he came down his foot went through the floor and into the water. The young man was in pain and Lorson went to help him. Upon getting closer he could see that the young man had actually fallen in a hole where the boards of the court were missing. Luckily, the boy was only scraped up and was able limp off the court.

“It was right then we decided we had to do something about the basketball court,” Ports said.

They contacted the local administration and received permission to repair the court. When they inspected the court they found multiple sections of missing boards, areas of rotting boards and boards that were loose and nails that were sticking up out of the floor. Ports and Lorson went to the community and asked for lumber, screws, and tools. A local contractor provided some of the wood and some tools, the tribal government provided additional lumber. In addition, they recruited their local guide Kenny Pete, who had been helping them with the assessments, to assist. 

The three men then began the process of repairing the court, putting boards back where there were ones missing, removing rotten boards and installing new ones and more. All three felt a sense of accomplishment and relief in fixing a danger and a hazard and returning it to the kids safer and stronger than before.

While they may have been there to assess damage to more than 65 homes in Stebbins and St. Michaels – including 13 homes that suffered catastrophic damage from the huge tital surges, wind and rain – Ports and Lorson found a way to do some tangible good on what was otherwise a trip to assess needs before more teams come in to complete repairs.

“Just fixing a basketball court was one of the greatest parts of our mission to Stebbins,” Lorson said.