Monthly Archives: November 2014

Safe from bears? Don’t fall for it — Delayed onset of winter weather leaves nature stuck in autumn

Redoubt Reporter file photos By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

Redoubt Reporter file photos
By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

By the calendar, it’s winter in Alaska. Usually by the end of November, the Kenai Peninsula has gotten at least one coating of a couple inches of snow and marked temperatures dipping into the teens or single digits. But this year, winter as usual has yet to arrive. With temperatures in the 30s and just a scant dusting of snow, it feels more like October than nearly December, and wildlife aren’t falling for it supposedly being winter.

Bears, in particular, are still in fall activity mode.

“We had reports last week of bears getting in to garbage or Dumpsters,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, on Monday.

A brown bear was reported getting into Dumpsters and breaking into a garage seeking garbage stored inside in a neighborhood about five miles out Funny River Road, Selinger said.

The Kenai Peninsula Bears page on Facebook has a few reports of bear sightings, as well, including a black bear checking out a neighbor’s chickens on St. Theresa Road in Sterling, posted Nov. 19. Another black bear was seen heading into Woodland Estates in Kenai, posted Nov. 19, and a walker reported seeing fresh bear tracks near Hidden Creek on Nov. 4.

Selinger said that his office gets reports of bears out and about every month of the year on the Kenai, so there’s no guaranteed safe period when all bears are tucked away for the winter, but most by now are denned up for the winter.

“Generally speaking, the majority of your animals, by about mid-November, most should be in the den. Some animals go in a little earlier than others, but usually by now they’re all pretty much denned up,” he said.

“Daylight, snow cover, how much fat they have on them — there’s a lot of factors that can play into it. Usually they want to wait until the ground freezes a little bit and makes it better for digging dens, they don’t cave in as easily. It’s a lot of factors all rolled into one. Generally speaking, the warmer it is the more likely they are to stay out longer,” Selinger said.

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Iron dogged determination — Soldotna snowmachine racer Scott Davis looks to represent motorsports with nomination to Alaska Sports Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy of Scott Davis. Scott Davis crosses the Iron Dog finish line for his seventh win in 2007 with partner Todd Palin.

Photo courtesy of Scott Davis. Scott Davis crosses the Iron Dog finish line for his seventh win in 2007 with partner Todd Palin.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Any Alaskans interested in snowmachine racing probably know of Soldotna’s Scott Davis. Those with even the merest passing interest in Iron Dog definitely do. Fans of the 2,000-mile annual snowmachine race could rattle off his highlight stats as smoothly as the acceleration on the high-performance machines the two-person teams ride from Big Lake to Nome every February.

He holds a record seven championships — in 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2007 — with five different partners, has 20 career top-three finishes and is the only continuously participating racer who was in the first Iron Dog and is still racing today. He’s only missed a couple events due to injury.

Come Dec. 8 he could have a new title — first motorsports athlete inducted to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

“There’s never been a motorsports person that’s made it. But it couldn’t be more Alaskan,” Davis said.

Davis is among 48 other athletes nominated for the individual honor, as well as 26 nominees in the Moment category and 19 entrants in the Event category. Voting — including by the public — closes at midnight Dec. 2.

The Hall of Fame began in 2006, with its first batch of inductees in 2007. Past inductees include a mix of dog mushers, skiers, mountain climbers, runners, basketball, baseball, football and hockey players, and a rower. Events and Moments reflect the same sports — the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, the first ascent of Mount McKinley, the Fairbanks Equinox Marathon, the Great Alaska Shootout, the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, and even Les Anderson’s catch of a world-record king salmon in the Kenai River.

But no honoring of motorsports. This year, Davis and the Iron Dog are nominated.

“I think that there couldn’t be anything more Alaskan than Iron Dog. How many people do you know that actually mush dogs? Not very many,” he said, though hastening to add his appreciation for the athletic achievement required in mushing, as well as mountain climbing, hockey and the other sports that are already well represented in the hall.

“The first Iron Dog I ever did I went, ‘Holy s***, if I were George Attla’s lead dog I’d bite him right in the butt. After doing 50,000 miles or whatever I’ve done on that (Iditarod Trail, which Iron Dog follows for most of its route), I’ve got a lot of respect for the dog mushers. They just do it a different way than we do it. I think (Iron Dog) is uniquely Alaskan, and I think it’s a world-class event and I think we should at least recognize the event if nothing else,” he said.

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Sense, defense — Sterling Judo Club holds class in women’s self-protection

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Caitlin Sturman, of Kenai, tries to get out of a headlock imposed by her sister, Carly Sturman, during a free self-defense class for women put on last week by the Sterling Judo Club.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Caitlin Sturman, of Kenai, tries to get out of a headlock imposed by her sister, Carly Sturman, during a free self-defense class for women put on last week by the Sterling Judo Club.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are 237,868 victims of rape or sexual assault each year in the U.S., with the majority of victims being women. It’s a sobering statistic, one which the Sterling Judo Club hopes to decrease on the central Kenai Peninsula. On Friday, the club offered a self-defense class for women free of charge.

“The statistics for sexual assault crimes for Alaska are some of the highest in the country, and it’s not just happening in the villages. It’s happening in the cities, too,” said Sensei Robert Brink, a black belt in judo and one of the primary instructors of the Sterling Judo Club.

Brink explained the importance of self-defense for women is to empower them to not make it easy for would-be predators. Often, attackers are dissuaded when women defend themselves, he said.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean fighting, although at times that may be necessary. It also means having an awareness of dangerous situations and learning how to avoid them or get out of them. It means more than just putting up your arms and giving up,” he said.

Brink was not the instructor of the women’s class, though. It was led by a visiting instructor from Las Vegas, Sensei Kati Gibler, who has been a judo practitioner for 25 years. She expanded on the idea of awareness of when sexual assaults often can occur.

“It’s just like hiking, in which you have to avoid steep terrain and watch for signs of bear activity. With self-defense, avoidance means recognizing the hazards,” she said.

As examples, Gibler cited the bar scene, where men and women may have a loss of inhabitations from drinking.

“You mental state is altered, you don’t have the same coordination, and, unfortunately, for some men, there is a perception that if a lady is in a bar they’re fair game,” she said.

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Plugged In: Click that holiday wish list up a notch

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Knowing how to properly use your camera equipment is certainly more important than acquiring new gear. This week, though, you’ll find our camera purchase suggestions for the holiday season, just in time for “Black Friday.”

In the spirit of Christmas, be sure to leave a copy of this week’s Redoubt Reporter lying about the house, open to this article with your preferred new camera highlighted. To ensure your subtly expressed Christmas wish is not overlooked, don’t forget to leave a note addressed to your gift givers reminding them to please forward the highlighted article to Santa well before Christmas. After all, you don’t want to be TOO subtle, but you’ll definitely want to toggle into “nice” mode if you’ve overstayed your welcome on the “naughty” side.

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Frequent flyers — Nikiski art students vote for better campaigning in political project

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sadie Averill, left, and Heidi Kaser, seniors at Nikiski Middle-High School, assembled trees from the political flyers that stuffed mailboxes this election season. Art teacher Anna Widman had each of her classes construct branches for the trees.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sadie Averill, left, and Heidi Kaser, seniors at Nikiski Middle-High School, assembled trees from the political flyers that stuffed mailboxes this election season. Art teacher Anna Widman had each of her classes construct branches for the trees.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The general election is over, and with it the deluge of campaign fliers that inundated mailboxes, taxing the capacity of Alaska voters’ patience and garbage bins.

Most of those flyers found their way to the landfill, but in Nikiski, many found a new purpose as a way to make a different political statement.

“I was getting so many of these in the mail and I figured everybody else was, too, so I had my classes start collecting fliers, and the teachers were pretty happy to bring in fliers, so we just started collecting them in a bin,” said Anna Widman, art teacher at Nikiski Middle-High School.

It seemed a waste to let all that paper go to waste — killing trees, and all. So she challenged each of her classes to make a tree branch and leaves out of the flyers. Two of her students, seniors Sadie Averill and Heidi Kaser, took it upon themselves to turn all the branches into trees.

There was no difficulty finding materials.

“I had one family give me 100 fliers because they have four adults in their household, so every one of them were getting their allotment,” Widman said. “And a lot of teachers brought in whatever they got at their house, which was quite substantial, as well.”

She told her students that whichever class brought in the most flyers would win a pizza party. Her second-hour class took the prize, thanks in large part to Melissa Roza’s large contribution — 1,000 flyers or more, Widman said.

“We’ve still got more that haven’t been used in the trees,” Widman said. “It wasn’t hard to collect fliers at all.”

The challenge — artistically as it was logistically for voters at their mailboxes — was what to do with them.

“We had to figure out how to get the base stable enough and also where to add stuff to it, because it leaned. Once we started adding stuff we had to figure out how to find the balance of it,” Kaser said.

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Peek of adventure — Nikiski graduate bikes across the country

Photos courtesy of Tyler Peek. Tyler Peek, of Nikiski, recently completed a bike ride through all 50 states, covering 6,850 miles in 111 days.

Photos courtesy of Tyler Peek. Tyler Peek, of Nikiski, recently completed a bike ride through all 50 states, covering 6,850 miles in 111 days.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Youth is squandered on the young, as the cliché goes. But is it frittering away your days if, after finishing school, you have an adventure unequivocal to anything you’ve yet experienced in life? Seeing vast and different parts of the country, far away from the part in which you grew up, and achieving something no one else you know has done? Tyler Peek, of Nikiski, doesn’t think so.

The 22-year-old recently returned from a bike tour of the U.S., in which he rode through all 50 states, following the shortest route — rather than more-popular, established paths — to cover 6,850 miles in 111 days, in just under four months, completely on his own.

“Going through every state would mean I’d be the first at something. Either I’d have the fastest time or the shortest distance for a self-supported cyclist, or I’d be the most amateur to do it, or I’d be the first person in 2014 to do it. These potentials are what sold me. I know it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it felt like it,” Peek wrote in his blog.

Peek said he had long known he wanted to do something after graduating college on June 15, before the responsibilities of life snared him into a routine from which he couldn’t escape.

“I knew once I started a career I couldn’t just take off for months, or leave my wife or family, so this seemed like my only chance to do it,” he said.

Peek knew he wanted to challenge himself in some way, but hadn’t narrowed down exactly what. After his parents took him to Hawaii on June 17 for a postgraduation gift, he used the time to focus and begin his personal odyssey. He and his family went on a tour of a volcano in Maui and rode bicycles down the summit cone. It was an ah-ha moment for Peek.

He did some research and plotted his planned route, but coming from the age of technology, he bought a smartphone and relied on Google Maps, rather than atlases or printed road maps, to find his way.

“It told me where to go. I used driving maps, but with the bicycle option, and avoided freeways and high-traffic things like that,” he said.

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Drinking on the Last Frontier: High marks for High Mark — Distillery toasts law change in tasting room reopening

Photo by Elaine Howell. Visitors sample the spirits at High Mark Distillery at its grand reopening Saturday in Sterling.

Photo by Elaine Howell. Visitors sample the spirits at High Mark Distillery at its grand reopening Saturday in Sterling.

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

It’s said that all things come to he who waits. In this case, it could be more accurately said that they come to she who waits, with the lady in question being Felicia Keith-Jones, the owner of High Mark Distillery in Sterling.

As I mentioned in my monthly column earlier this year, Keith-Jones and the four other artisanal distillers in the state banded together and worked hard to convince the Legislature to pass HB 309, a measure to allow distilleries the same privileges granted to wineries and breweries in Alaska — i.e., to have a tasting room in their production facility and to be able to sell their products directly to the public.

While the distillers only had about three weeks to draft and push the bill through before the end of the session, they received excellent support from their representatives and senators, and HB 309 passed with wide margins in both bodies before the end of April. Gov. Sean Parnell delayed signing it in to law until mid-July, which meant that it would not go into effect until Oct. 12, thereby ensuring that the distilleries would miss out on the entire 2014 tourism season. Still, better late than never.

So it’s been a long time coming, but last Saturday, Nov. 15, High Mark Distillery was finally able to celebrate the grand reopening of its tasting room at 37200 Thomas St. in Sterling. All of its bottles were on sale for $25, which represented a substantial savings for many of them. Besides its Nickel Back Apple Jack (36 or 50 proof), its High Mark Vodka (80 proof) and its Blind Cat Moonshine (90 proof), there was a new product on sale, Blueberry Cobbler Shine (58 proof). As it is my duty as a reporter to be extremely thorough, I sampled the new product, and I can report that it is quite delicious, with a wonderful berry flavor and none of the alcohol heat of the higher-proof Blind Cat.

In between customers stopping in to sample and purchase bottles, Keith-Jones told me about a couple of soon-to-be released new products, as well as her hopes for the future of her business.

“We will be releasing our homemade vanilla extract in time for Thanksgiving,” she said. “I did extensive research comparing vanilla pods from all over the world — Tonga, Tahiti, Uganda, Indian, Hawaii, Mexico and Madagascar. In the end, I settled on a blend of Hawaii and Madagascar,” she said. “I’m also excited to be finally producing something that my mother, who is a nondrinker, can enjoy.”

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Hunting Fishing and Other Grounds for Divorce: Diary of a procrastinator

By Jacki Michels, for the Redoubt Reporter

Dear Diary,

I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve been foolish in the past but I know I will have the same summer paperwork project due this year as I did last year. It’s only April, but I’m going to start collecting notes next month. I will keep it ALL in one notebook and then transfer all my data on to nice, crispy, neat forms in the fall.

Dear Diary,

To go along with my good intentions I’ve purchased a sleek notebook with a sturdy plastic cover and a nice erasable pen. I will keep it on-site and diligently collect my data. How hard is that? This is a piece of cake.

Dear Diary,

Is it June already? Ohmygosh! So stinking busy! Where’s that notebook? I looked for it for days while keeping data on odd scraps of paper. Finally bought another notebook, recorded vital data in it and *poof* the first notebook materializes. Now I’ve got data in three places. Mental note, keep it all in one spot! P.S.: I’ve got to work on my handwriting or I’ll never decipher this disaster.

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Plugged In: Keep an eye and both hands on stabilization

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Image-stabilization hardware is probably the single most useful and important advance in photographic hardware in the past 30 years, but it’s not perfect, requiring careful use for consistently good results.

Although not a substitute for a fast-enough shutter speed, image-stabilization greatly extends our ability to work in many less-than-optimal situations, such as dim light or high-magnification telephoto shots. It’s important to differentiate among the various types of IS because some are stabilized in name only.

IS hardware only compensates for your body’s inherent minute tremors that cause noticeable image blur at too-slow shutter speeds and high-magnification telephoto shots. IS can’t compensate for blur caused by a subject’s inherent motion. Still, countering blur resulting from external camera shake is exceptionally useful.

So-called “electronic image stabilization” is something of a sham. It merely bumps up the ISO sensitivity and sets a faster shutter speed. It’s most common in older consumer digital cameras and usually results in noticeably higher image noise. Electronic IS is really just an auto-ISO feature and of no real value. You can just as easily set a higher ISO yourself, and more effectively.

“Optical” IS moves a few glass elements within a lens to compensate for shake. Optical IS was initially easier to implement and, when properly designed, can result in a two to four “EV” improvement. That’s very useful, particularly with telephoto lenses.

Until recently, optical IS was generally thought superior, but that’s no longer the case. There are a few significant disadvantages — each lens must be separately stabilized, which is expensive, and optically stabilized lenses tend to be a bit larger. Some optically stabilized derivative designs, such as Tamron’s 17- to 50-mm zoom lens for APS-C digital SLR cameras, seem less sharp than earlier unstabilized versions of the same lens. That’s likely due to the more complex optical path. However, if you shoot Canon, Nikon, Samsung, Panasonic or some Sony cameras, it’s either optical IS or nothing.

The third type of IS is “sensor-shift” in which the sensor itself makes minute movements that counteract any camera shake. Pentax, Olympus and some Sony cameras use sensor-shift IS. Until recently, sensor-shift stabilization was reputedly less effective than moving a few glass elements within each lens, but over the past few years, sensor-shift IS has substantially improved. Sensor-shift IS can stabilize any lens physically attached to the camera, a very useful capability as many excellent, compact, single-magnification “prime” lenses lack built-in IS hardware. With some older lenses, though, you may need to manually input the focal length to ensure correct stabilization.

Pentax’s sensor-shift IS can act as an anti-alias filter on demand, counteracting moiré false color interference patterns. Olympus’ five-axis, sensor-shift IS built into its flagship E-M1, E-M5 and E-P5 cameras seems able to provide a 4 EV to 5 EV stabilization that’s especially effective in stabilizing handheld video. As an example, when submitting automobile accident settlement packages to insurance companies, I like to include video taken from a vehicle driving at the posted speed through the collision site to show what each driver could see at what times. Such video tends to be very bouncy due to erratic vehicle and body motion, often to the point of unusability. After I started taking accident-scene videos with an Olympus E-P5 and its five-axis magnetically suspended IS system, my handheld accident scene videos became rock solid.

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SpICE of life — Dry, cold makes early winter skaters bold

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Dan Balmer, left, and Matt Neisinger, both of Sterling, practice their hockey skills on Bottenintnin Lake on Saturday. Freezing temperatures with no snow creates conditions ripe for ice skating.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Dan Balmer, left, and Matt Neisinger, both of Sterling, practice their hockey skills on Bottenintnin Lake on Saturday. Freezing temperatures with no snow creates conditions ripe for ice skating.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

As Pete Seeger and Ecclesiastes posit, to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

An early winter like this, bereft so far of snow but with temperatures dipping below freezing and clear days beckoning people outdoors for some sort of recreation, is time to turn, turn, turn.

Laps, that is, around area lakes that have frozen over in a deepening crust. It’s ice skating season.

“This is something to look forward to, absolutely,” said Sue Seggerman, of Sterling, who was out skating on Bottenintnin Lake on Skilak Lake Loop Road with a group of friends Saturday. “And you’ve got to do it while you can. As soon as we get snow it’ll be all over.

“Some years you don’t get to go at all,” said Gail Moore, of Soldotna.

Conditions have to be just right for decent skating. A safely frozen lake is the first and foremost requirement, with ice at least 4 to 6 thick.

Tom Seggerman, of Sterling, started checking ice thickness two weeks ago in anticipation of taking his skates out of hibernation.

Tom Seggerman, of Sterling, has been skating for two weeks now, after punching test holes in the area’s shallow, quick-freezing lakes two weeks ago to test ice depth. A minimum of 4 to 6 inches is recommended.

Tom Seggerman, of Sterling, has been skating for two weeks now, after punching test holes in the area’s shallow, quick-freezing lakes two weeks ago to test ice depth. A minimum of 4 to 6 inches is recommended.

“If it’s clear ice you can look at the fractures and see how deep they are, but when it first freezes you don’t have those, so you want to punch a few holes to check. I came out here two weeks this Tuesday to get a sample and said Bottenintnin is good, let’s have a party Halloween night, and we did,” Seggerman said.

Smaller, shallower lakes freeze first. Bottenintnin is a quick freezer. Headquarters Lake, in Soldotna, is another early season favorite.

“It’s awesome out here,” said Tony Eskelin, of Soldotna, armed with a hockey stick and puck Saturday. “I go at lunch to Headquarters. You get out there with the sun, it’s amazing.”

“Talking to skaters, they’ve been raving about it, and if it keeps cool the ice should get thicker. We haven’t augered it so don’t know how thick it is. We always tell everyone to skate at their own risk,” said Candace Ward, with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Headquarters Lake is down the hill behind the refuge visitors center on Ski Hill Road. “It’s not every year people can skate it. It depends on the temperatures and how early snow comes. And the numbers that come to skate are still smallish compared to the number of skiers we’ll see when the first snow comes. It’s the time to go, though, if you want to skate outdoors, as opposed to being indoors on a frozen rink.”

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Stormy char off limits —  Restocked fish slow to grow following pike eradication

ice fishing lure copyBy Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Ice fishermen are being asked to cool it on fishing in Stormy Lake in Nikiski this winter, as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Monday prohibiting the retention of Arctic char/Dolly Varden from Nov. 14 through April 30, 2015.
Sportfishing through the ice is allowed, using two closely attended lines with one hook or artificial lure allowed on each line. But char/Dollies pulled from the lake must immediately be returned. The fish are in a sensitive period of growth in attempting to re-establish their population in the lake.
In September 2012, the lake was treated with rotenone — a naturally occurring chemical found in the roots, seeds and leaves of several subtropical plants — to eradicate an invasive pike population that had taken over the lake and threatened to spill out into the Swanson River system. When applied to water, rotenone is an effective fish killer, as it inhibits cellular respiration and causes eventual death to fish from the reduced uptake of oxygen. It’s also been used as a pesticide and insecticide, though fish are particularly sensitive to rotenone because it easily enters their bloodstream through their gills. It biodegrades quickly and doesn’t pose a threat to humans. The powdered form has even been used to treat scabies and head lice.
Rotenone is an indiscriminate aquatic killer, so Fish and Game retrieved samples of the native species they’d like to preserve in the lake before treating it with the chemical. After the rotenone dissipated and testing showed no remaining pike in the lake, the department started reintroducing fish in 2013. Eggs had been taken from native Arctic char and reared in the William Jack Hernandez Hatchery in Anchorage, and the resulting fingerlings were restocked last summer.

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Happy hoopla — Elks Hoop Shoot offers 3-pointers to skills, confidence, success

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Delaney Smith, 8, of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, prepares to throw a basketball during the Elks Hoop Shoot, held in the gymnasium of Soldotna Prep on Saturday. Smith won her age division and will move on to state-level competition.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Delaney Smith, 8, of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, prepares to throw a basketball during the Elks Hoop Shoot, held in the gymnasium of Soldotna Prep on Saturday. Smith won her age division and will move on to state-level competition.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Delaney Smith, a petite 8-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and blue nail polish standing easily a foot shorter than her competitors, looked more ready for a Battle of the Books than a battle on the court. It was a tall task for a small fry when she approached the foul line on the basketball court Saturday.

In the gymnasium of Soldotna Prep, dozens of kids ages 8 to 13 met to compete for the second tier of competition in the annual Elks Hoop Shoot Competition.

“She already won one,” said Delaney’s mother, Kim Smith, referring to the first tier of competition that took place at the school level, where Delaney was among the best of the best from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School.

Despite her compact size, she took the ball — larger than her own head — with confidence. She dribbled a few times, then heaved the orange sphere skyward, shot-putting it more than shooting it. Then, a swish. She did this over and over again during the 25 shots she, and each contender, were allotted.

“She’s watched basketball since she was in a car seat. Her brothers and sisters and cousins all play, and she plays through the Boys and Girls Club, so she shoots every single day,” Kim Smith said.

There were plenty of kids there about whom the same could be said, though, so how did the pint-sized girl become enough of a powerhouse to win her age division Saturday and move on the next tier of state-level competition?

“I think a lot of her success comes from playing with the older kids. We’ve always left the basket high for them, so she’s really used to it,” Smith said. Continue reading

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