KODIAK — Kodiak Post 17 head coach Derek Clarkston was among four coaches honored by his peers when he was included in the Alaska Legion Team of Excellence this year.
He said the Kodiak Bears’ upset of No. 1 seed Juneau in the first game of the American Legion state tournament did not play a factor in landing him on the all-state team.
“As for why other coaches voted for me, I have no idea. It was voted on before the tournament, so it was not for upsetting Juneau,” said Clarkston, who is also the sports editor for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. “[I’m] guessing because Kodiak, granted by default, qualified for the state Legion tournament for the first time since 1992.”
Three other coaches from the sixteen teams in the league were also named to the all-state team. They were Joseph Tomplins and Jeremy Ludeman, both with Juneau, as well as Willie Paul, with Service.
“There are a ton of outstanding baseball coaches in this state, and I’m honored that my peers scribbled my name on the ballot. It really is a big honor, one that I will cherish,” Clarkston said. “My name is on the award, but my assistant coach Dave Smith should also be recognized. He puts in just as much time as I do at the field. Volunteer coach Sam Hanson was also a big help this season.”
At the end of last season, Clarkston thought his team had a chance to reach the state tournament this year.
“I just never thought we would get in like we did,” he said.
The Bears scored the chance to play in the state tournament at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage when Wasilla and Ketchikan were disqualified from sanctioned postseason play for not purchasing insurance before the May 31 deadline. Post 17, which finished the regular season as the 10th-best team in the standings, made its first appearance at a Legion state tournament since 1992.
“I told this team at the beginning of the season that they could compete with any team in the state and they proved that in what will be remembered as one of the greatest upsets in Alaska Legion history,” Clarkston said. “To go from only winning two games in 2016 to upsetting Juneau is a testament to how hard the players have worked over the past two years.”
Under Clarkston’s leadership, the team has been making steady progress since 2016. In 2017 they bagged six wins, and this year, they secured 11 regular season victories.
“Not only qualifying for the state tournament, but then upsetting top seed Juneau — one of the premier teams in Alaska that had 13 more wins than us — is something that I will never forget,” Clarkston said. “Without a doubt, the best moment I have ever had on a diamond.”
The game against Juneau on Friday was a tense opener for the teams, with the crowd increasing in size as the innings stacked up.
“In the closing moments, everybody, including players on opposing teams, were rooting for us,” Clarkston recalled. “When the final out was recorded, it was like we had won a state title — players tossed their gloves in the air and celebrated like champions.”
Beyond missing being on the diamond and part of a team, Clarkston isn’t sure what drove him to coaching. He got in involved with the Kodiak Little League a few years after he arrived on the island to join the Kodiak Daily Mirror team in 2006.
“When Kodiak Little League president Leonard Pickett restarted Kodiak’s Legion program in 2013, he asked me to coach,” Clarkston said. “I’ve been with the Legion team ever since then, while still helping at the Little League level.”
Of course, now, Clarkston knows exactly why he coaches.
“The players inspire me; I coach because of them. Seeing them achieve their goals, whether it be big or small, and knowing I might have played a small part in that, is what keeps me going. There is nothing more rewarding,” Clarkston said.
He explained he was doing his best to carry on the Kodiak baseball
tradition that Rick Langfitt built.
“Langfitt was Mr. Baseball when he lived on the island, coaching Little League and high school. He retired and moved to the Lower 48 in 2013,” Clarkston said. “I was fortunate to spend the summer of 2013 coaching with him on the Legion team. I don’t think he realizes how much he taught me about coaching. I owe a lot to him.”