Without spring sports, the Ellsworth family has gotten creative in finding ways to remain competitive.
Card games, board games and balloony ball.
For those not familiar with balloony ball — and there isn’t any reason you should since it is an Ellsworth original — the game involves a large room (furniture included), a make-shift net (piece of tape or a mark on the carpet) and a balloon. A family member gets two hits to get the balloon over the net. Think volleyball.
With a household that includes a mom that always wins, a dad who coaches football, two high school athletes and a budding prep star, things can get pretty intense.
Emma Ellsworth — a Kodiak senior — created a balloony ball bracket as a way for the family to pass the time during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Emma was refereeing one of the games, and I yelled at her for the bad call — it took us an hour to get over,” father Bryan Ellsworth said. “That was a super competitive night ... it gets a little fiery sometimes, but at the end of the day, we all love each other.”
As entertaining as family game nights are, Emma would rather be finishing her high school athletic career on the diamond than on the balloony ball court.
After not playing her junior season, she was set to return to the softball program before COVID-19 turned the world upside down.
“I wish I would have played last year, so it would have been a more recent last year, instead of sophomore year being my first and last year,” she said.
“The team has gotten better and better each year, so I was super excited to see what we could have done this year.”
Being in a Coast Guard family, Emma spent her freshman year in Hawaii. The family returned to The Rock a year later and, after not playing high school sports in Hawaii, she found a spot on Kodiak High’s volleyball and softball programs.
She made an immediate impact on the diamond, helping Kodiak secure a place at the 2018 Division II state tournament for the first time since 2015.
Being at the state tournament painted the backdrop for one of Emma’s fondest sports memories.
The odd thing is that the memory didn’t take place on the field, but in the upstairs of a house, the team called home during the trip to Fairbanks.
“We were starving and were all hungry. It was midnight and we ordered pizza without asking the coach,” Emma said.
Tom Bolen, then a first-year head coach, recalled that event.
“I remember waking up that morning to the smell of pizza in the place and the girls laying like they had been up all night eating pizza,” Bolen said.
“They all felt a little guilty when the coach gets up and sees all the pizza boxes lying around. Everyone was quiet and avoiding me not wanting to face the consequence.”
Bolen was excited to see Emma return to the team, even if it was only for a few practices before sports were shut down for the season.
“Already in my mind, I had plugged her in as a full-time starter on varsity,” the coach said. “She swings that bat with anger like she is going to knock the ball out of the park every single time.”
Emma perfected her swing from an early age with backyard practices with dad that involved a SwingAway hitting machine.
“I was so scared of it, but he would make me do it all the time. I think it made me a better hitter, but I did not like it,” Emma said.
Dad later joined his daughter on the 2018 softball team as an assistant coach before moving to the football program.
Emma said that her father has been an inspiration during her athletic career, which started as a member of the Kodiak Kingfishers swim club, a sport she soon gave up because she didn’t like getting beat by her younger brother.
“He will help in any area, even if he isn’t an expert in it, like volleyball, he will try,” she said. “He is definitely an amazing dad, but also having him being a coach is another aspect to the father that he already is.”
In what turned out to be her final softball game, Emma went 3 for 4 with an RBI against North Pole at the state tournament.
“She played her best game in the state tournament,” Bryan said. “That was cool to see her get a little bit better and better then have a good game in the state tournament.”
What was even more special for Bryan was watching his daughter emerge as a leader on the team, a trait that carried over to volleyball when Emma was named a captain of the 2019 volleyball team.
“She just endured herself to her teammates and was always pulling for everybody ... she was always happy for somebody when they did something good,” Bryan said.
Having lived all but six years of her life in Kodiak, Emma said she would miss the friendliness of the people who live here when she decides to move.
“We see that a lot with the donations that businesses give yearly to each sport — it is nice to see the generosity,” she said.
After graduating, Emma Ellsworth is planning to spend a semester at either the University of Alaska Anchorage or the University of Utah, where her older sister goes, before going on a mission trip with a friend who lives in Florida.
“I don’t know where we are going, but somewhere out of the country,” said Emma, who aspires to become a teacher.
Until she leaves, there will be many more competitive game nights at the Ellsworth house.
“Some times we don’t finish the game because there is some frustration, but for the most part everybody does pretty good,” Emma said.