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Alaskan team to visit South on gridiron

The South Medford High football team thought it had a long road trip last September when it bussed nearly 300 miles to Canby for its season-opening game.

But that journey will pale in comparison to the 2,726-mile trip that Service High of Anchorage, Alaska will make in September when it travels to Medford for a non-conference game against the Panthers.

How, you ask, did a matchup of football teams that are nearly one-ninth of the world's circumference apart from each another come about?

South Medford, it seems, needed another non-conference game on its 2003 schedule after Klamath Union dropped out of the Southern Oregon Conference to play an independent schedule.

— The Panthers had linked up with Canby and Redmond for two of their non-conference games, but needed a third. They tried to schedule the extra game with schools in Northern California, but none had an opening.

A Klamath Union administrator who had been on the Internet looking for a game for her school stumbled across Service and passed on the information to South Medford athletic director Dennis Murphy.

The Pelicans didn't want any part of Service, which has an enrollment of 2,400 and has won four state football championships in the past nine years.

But South Medford was happy to oblige the school that was named after the poet, Robert Service.

Almost all the schedules in this state were filled up ' we were scrambling to get that last game on our schedule, South Medford coach Bill Singler says.

The game will be played at 7 p.m. on Sept. 26 at Spiegelberg Stadium. It will be South Medford's fourth game of the year and Service's eighth.

The team known as the Cougars starts its season in late July and ends it in mid-October, when temperatures plunge well below freezing in Anchorage.

The Alaskan team will spend about &

36;38,000 to fly 45 players, 15 cheerleaders, 14 coaches and three managers from Anchorage to Medford on a direct flight. It will cost the team another &

36;7,000 for motel rooms ' it will arrive three days early in order to get acclimated to the Rogue Valley and take in some sights ' and another &

36;1,000 or so on food.

This is going to be the highlight of the season for a lot of our players, Service coach Jason Caldarera says. A trip like this is something the kids will remember their whole lives.

Not that the team hasn't traveled long distances before. Service ventured to Aztec, N.M. last year, and over the past decade it has trekked to Hawaii, Kent, Wash., Great Falls, Mont., and Las Vegas, Nev.

How can it afford it? In a word, fundraising.

The team raised a whopping &

36;93,000 last year and is already in the process of hustling money for its September sojourn.

We've got a lot of very supportive businesses in Anchorage and we've got some outstanding parents who do a lot of fund-raising, says Caldarera, adding that each of his players must come up with &

36;800 for the trip to Medford. A couple of oil companies in town have helped out but so have a lot of other, smaller businesses.

Although Alaska is more famous for its oil and fishing than it is for its high school football, Service has quite a track record.

The Cougars won state championships in 1994, '97, '98 and '99, and they've produced several players who moved on to Division I college programs, including current Colorado fullback Brandon Drumm and soon-to-be Nevada-Reno tight end Nick Fuhr, who will graduate from Service next month.

Service is also the alma mater of former Denver Broncos offensive lineman and current ESPN sportscaster Mark Schlereth.

The Cougars, who went 6-3 last season and lost in the first round of the Alaska state playoffs, will return 12 of 22 starters for 2003, including 6-foot-4, 225-pound fullback Jake Staser, who could be their next D1 recruit.

He's the real deal, Caldarera says. He's a tough kid with 4.7 speed.

Service runs a triple-option veer offense, with a little Wing-T sprinkled in.

We run the ball a lot, Caldarera says. With all the rain we get up here, you almost have to.

Only 24 high schools play football in Alaska, but six of them are in Anchorage, which makes for a competitive situation, Caldarea says.

We're looking forward to coming to Medford, he says. We've heard a lot about it.

The two Medford schools could become part of a regular-season doubleheader next fall.

District officials are working on a plan that would have North Medford meeting Wilson of Portland at 5 p.m. on Sept. 5, followed by an 8 p.m. game between South Medford and Canby.

North Medford junior lineman David Faaeteete has become a hot recruit.

Black Tornado coach John Beck says Michigan State and Northwestern have joined the likes of Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington, Washington State, UCLA and Southern Cal in their pursuit of Faaeteete, who has grown to 6-3&

189; and 268 pounds.

All of those schools have requested film on him, Beck says. He's bigger and stronger than he was last season, and just as quick.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail