If Joe Floyd wasn’t dedicated to creating Kodiak’s sports empire, the Mississippi native could have been a ringer on the World Snoring Circuit — if there were such a thing.
His ability to belt ZZZZ’s was legendary and caused many sleepless, restless nights for his bunkmates.
“Everybody avoided sharing a room with him,” said Duncan Fields, a former star athlete for Kodiak High.
And those who did have the misfortune of sharing a room with him on off-island trips got creative in finding ways to sleep.
“We were in a big room, maybe 50 people on all these cots,” recalled Steve Rounsaville about a wrestling trip to Anchorage. “He was so loud that everybody in there was wide-awake … We picked up his cot, carried him out into the hallway and shut the door.”
Then there was the time the island’s Legion baseball team, which Joe coached, was playing in Fairbanks. Kodiak was rooming at the National Guard Armory with several other teams. They returned one night after cheering for Kenai during its win over Service — Post 17’s rival.
“They (Service) came in and said, ‘You are pretty quiet now, Kodiak,”’ said John Cannon, a Kodiak player in the 1980s. “We went to sleep, and Coach fired up his chainsaw. The guy who really hated Kodiak wakes up, walks over to Coach, taps him on the shoulder and says, ‘Dude, you’re killing me.”’
Bedtime was the only part of the day when people didn’t want to be around Joe.
Joe, who dedicated 64 years of his life to the community of Kodiak, died at the age of 89 on Feb. 22 at his longtime island home. He spent 26 years of his time on The Rock building the Kodiak High School athletic department and the rest of his days being a fan of the Bears. Joe Floyd is, and always will be, Kodiak sports. The track and field at Baranof Park and the longest-running high school basketball tournament in the state carry his name.
Years after Joe retired, and after all four of his kids moved to the Lower 48, Patrick, the youngest, gauged his parents’ interest in leaving Kodiak to be closer to family.
“He said as soon as you can figure out how to take the entire community of Kodiak with us, I’ll do it,” Patrick said. “Basically, he was saying there was no way I was moving anywhere; this is my town, my community, my people.”
And the community loved Joe.
“He made people around him feel better about themselves,” said Harry Mickelson, a longtime Kodiak boys basketball coach and former Team USA bowler. “He had a wonderful talent in doing that … He had positive energy and did an incredible job at seeing the best in everybody.”
Mickelson felt that firsthand when he arrived in Kodiak from Nebraska at the age of 22. A year later, in 1968, Joe handed him the boys basketball job. Mickelson coached 20 years and ended as one of the most successful coaches in program history. Along the way, the two became great pals and went on hunting trips together.
“He saw something in me,” Mickelson said. “He had that confidence in me, and you don’t know what that means as a young person — there were a lot of people around that could have done the job, and he chose me.”
Kodiak superintendent Ivar Schott changed the path of Kodiak’s athletic future when he hired Joe to be a coach and teacher at Kodiak High School in 1955, a time on the island when families were big — eight to 10 kids — and fathers had to work nonstop to put food on the table. Basketball was the only sport played on the island, and the high school was downtown. In 1956, the Naval school merged with Kodiak High, which increased enrollment from 120 to 250 students.
“Dads were always working to provide, and there was never really any fun and games,” said Rob Foster, who scored a school-best 61 points in a boys basketball game in 1971.
Kodiak kids craved sports, and Joe fed their hunger by giving them what they wanted. By the time he retired from the Kodiak Island Borough School District in 1981, he had created — and coached — nearly every sports program on the island, leaving a lasting impression on thousands of youths.
“Joe Floyd was a father to the fatherless,” Foster said. “There were a lot of people who had distant fathers. Coach saw that, and he had time for hundreds of kids at a time.”
Foster’s father was a hard worker and only attended one of his son’s high school basketball games during his four-year career. Joe knew that and found a way for the Fosters to spend time together by asking them to paint lines on the school’s basketball court.
“He could have got anybody to do it, but he asked my dad,” Foster said.
Joe is credited for starting varsity athletic programs, but he was most proud of the intramural programs he created. Intramurals gave every student — athletically gifted or not — a chance to play sports. They met before and after school, playing sports like football, softball, soccer and track and field.
“He always had kids doing activities, and he really believed in it,” said Mickelson, who was able to start a bowling team with the backing of Floyd.
Joe’s passion for sports developed in the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s. His dad being a farmer, they lived on a 120 acre farm, raising horses, mules, milking and beef cows, cotton beans and corn. His mother was a retired elementary school teacher who played the piano. Living on such a big farm, the nearest neighbor kids were hundreds of acres away, so Joe spent his summers playing with his dogs, Tip and Tap, listening to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games on the radio and playing catch with his dad.
“Being raised an only child, he always wanted to have a larger family because of something that he didn’t have — people to interact and play with all the time,” Joe’s oldest son, Max, said.
Joe was a three-sport star — a rarity these days — at Tunica High School and parlayed that into a two-year football scholarship at Northwest Community College, then a year at Delta State.
Joe’s athletic prowess was often overlooked when he arrived in Kodiak years later, but one thing was sure: Nobody could beat him in ping-pong or badminton.
“He would stand at one end of the table, and you would be racing side to side. It seemed like he would never move or never break a sweat,” Mickelson said.
Joe left college and spent three years in the military, Navy and the Air Force. He wanted to be a pilot but, after realizing flying wasn’t for him, he found his place in athletics as a senior athletic specialist. He managed teams and gymnasiums until being honorably discharged in 1953. He returned to college, obtaining a teaching degree from the University of Mississippi.
Joe had a handful of teaching offers, but the contract mailed to him from Schott caught his attention. Starting pay was $4,920, which was more than what his college professor was making. After discussing it with his wife, Carolyn, who he met in Portland, Oregon, while stationed there in the military, he signed a nine-month contract.
“What do you think about Kodiak, Alaska?” Joe asked Carolyn over the phone.
“Where is Kodiak, Alaska?” Carolyn asked.
“I really don’t have the faintest idea,” Joe replied. “Somewhere in Alaska.”
And so the adventure started. Joe bought a 1954 Chevrolet for $600, married Carolyn in Vancouver, Washington, and headed north up the Alcan Highway.
The couple arrived in Kodiak on PNA Airlines, while the car was shipped from Homer to The Rock on Alaskan Steamship. According to Joe’s biography, there was no ferry service to Kodiak at that time.
Joe, 25 then, hit the ground running, quickly carving out his place in the community as “Coach” — a moniker that stuck until the day he died. He also joined the Army National Guard and took a second job with the United States Postal Service, working evenings and weekends there for almost two decades.
His focus, though, was his job at the school.
“I was given the keys (to the school),” Joe told the Kodiak Daily Mirror in 2007. “The stars were aligned. The pieces of the puzzle were right there in front of me, and I started to put them together.”
Wrestling, swimming, cross country, volleyball and track and field programs soon emerged. He started a Christmas basketball tournament, which was named after him in 1982, and the Robin Hervey Wrestling Tournament — both still staples of the athletic department.
He also did plenty outside of the school, creating City League Basketball for adults and organizing feeder programs like the Kodiak Kid Wrestling Club, Little Dribblers and Little League and Legion baseball.
“I went through high school with Coach as a constant in my life,” said Fields, who also attended the same church, Kodiak Community Baptist, as Joe. “Encouraging, disciplining and traveling … He always worked with a limited budget or inadequate funds but never stopped planning a trip or providing an athletic opportunity because he didn’t have the budget.”
Fields, who was pushed by Joe to run cross country, play basketball and wrestle — was presented the school’s athlete of the year award his senior year by Joe.
“All I could do was cry,” Fields said. “I was so grateful, so thankful how much time and energy he had put into my life. I couldn’t express myself … He truly dedicated his life and time to helping kids. That is who he was.”
Joe and Carolyn had four kids of their own — Virginia, Max, Scott and Patrick. All were gifted athletes. Virginia was Kodiak High’s first NCAA Division I athlete, playing basketball at Idaho State. She later coached the Cordova girls to a state basketball title.
The three boys played every sport offered at the school, but excelled in baseball, which they played during the summer. Max was the island’s first professional athlete, getting drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. Scott played at Oklahoma City University and was a win away from appearing in the NCAA Division I College World Series, while Patrick was a key member of Kodiak’s 1985 Legion baseball state title — the only championship in program history.
Joe had expectations for his kids — often they were met, but sometimes they were not.
“When he sensed that we were going down a direction that we shouldn’t go, he would bring us back the best that he could and remind us that we weren’t to be like every other kid,” Max said.
Max remembers starting seventh grade with long hair, just like all his Little League teammates. Joe didn’t like that, so he took his son to a barber to get a haircut. Max didn’t talk to his dad for the next three days.
“He said, ‘Max, do you know why I had your hair cut?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it was too long.’ He said, ‘The Floyd boys are not going to be like everybody else. The Floyd boys are going to be different.”’
Joe didn’t just believe in his kids, but he believed in everybody.
“He would follow those kids. When they left Kodiak High School, he would check with the college where they were for two to three years just to see how they were. He would call them up and tell them who he was,” said Sarah Babbitt, who worked closely with Joe in the 1980s by housing visiting athletes.
Joe felt it was important that every athlete got recognized, so he took up the role as sports reporter for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Each morning, he scribbled a story on a piece of paper or napkin and gave it to Carolyn to type — being the president of Kodiak College, she could type faster than Joe. He would drop the story off at the newspaper on his way to work.
“Mom’s job was to make it coherent, and again it is 6 in the morning, and there are four kids getting ready for school … It would get a little tense sometimes, but dad thought it was always important that we got those articles out,” Patrick said. “Sometimes he would list 30 kids in an article; whether they scored 20 or two in that Little Dribblers game, he would make sure to put their name in there.”
A lot of those newspaper clippings, along with other sports memorable, still fill Joe’s house in Kodiak. Patrick has spent the past few years digging through boxes and posting his findings on the Kodiak Sports History Facebook page.
“He really knew it was all about names, all about stories and all about people being recognized,” Max said. “Just a small, little accomplishment goes a great way in somebody’s life. That is why he always reminded people that you really do have an opportunity, and you can be successful.”
Joe collected accolades himself. He is in the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame (1992), the Alaska Schools Sports Hall of Fame (2007) and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame (2013). The Alaska Sports Hall of Fame hands out a yearly Joe Floyd Award to an individual who has made contributions through sports.
Joe was a walking Kodiak sports encyclopedia, pulling names, dates and scores from his memory like he was reciting his social security number. In the last seven years, as dementia set in, those memories faded. Patrick said that not remembering events was the hardest for his dad.
“He became quieter and was trying to grasp and keep a hold of it — they were there in his heart and mind, he just couldn’t verbalize it,” Patrick said.
The final basketball game Joe attended was during the 50th Joe Floyd Tournament in 2016. However, he could still be seen in a vehicle parked at Baranof Field, watching baseball games during the spring and summer — the same place where decades ago he would hold 6 a.m. practices.
Joe dedicated his life to Kodiak, and its residents reaped the awards.
“I loved that guy dearly,” Babbitt said. “I would have cut off my arm for him with all he did for kids in Kodiak … He was truly a legend.”
Babbitt recalled accompanying Joe on a wrestling trip to Fairbanks once. Babbitt said that Joe rented a plane, which was used to deliver fish, to fly the 80 wrestlers to Homer.
A school bus was parked in Homer waiting to take the team to Fairbanks.
“I said, ‘Joe, we are all exhausted. We can’t do this.’ He said, ‘No problem, these kids will sleep all the way. As soon as the bus starts up, they will be sound asleep,”’ Babbitt said. “Those kids climbed over those seats and under those seats all night long. Nobody got any sleep.”
Too bad, because that was the night that Joe did not snore.