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In a touching tribute to beloved former Service High ski coach Randy Bergt, about 40 former Service skiers made a surprise appearance Saturday at the first high school ski race of the season.
Before the finals of the Service Snowball Sprint at Kincaid Park, there was a ceremony for Bergt, who died Nov. 22 in an avalanche while skiing at Hatcher Pass.
During the ceremony, Service assistant coach Peter Van Tyuen spoke about the countless athletes Randy and his wife, Tasha, impacted during their years coaching the Cougars and other junior skiers in the 1990s.
"Why don't we see if they can still ski?" Van Tyuen said into the microphone. "Come on down!"
On cue, the gong sounded at the top of the sprint hill and a wave of skiers, many wearing old Cougars jerseys, skied down to the Kincaid stadium and into the waiting arms of Tasha and other members of the Bergt family at the finish line.
Bergt, 60, was a well-known member of the Anchorage ski community. He helped build the blue timing building at Kincaid and built champion skiers at Service. Randy's Loop at Service is named in his honor.
Among his and Tasha's proteges were Olympic biathletes Jeremy Teela and Rachel Steer as well as Rob Whitney, who became a national-class skier while still in high school.
"He had a love for skiing and passed that passion on to everyone," said Whitney, a 1997 Service grad. "I think a lot of people from our high school days still ski because of (him and Tasha)."
Chris Seaman, another of the Bergts' former skiers, said Bergt poured everything into his passion for the sport. He didn't make much money as a coach, but he didn't mind driving a junky old pickup, Seaman said. One time, Bergt forgot to wax the team's skis before a race and Seaman remembered how badly Bergt felt for letting the team down.
"You could tell he put everything into it," Seaman said. "Randy was like my hero in high school."
Saturday's race marked the beginning of the three-month high school ski season in Anchorage, and some familiar faces took home individual victories.
Defending state champions Gus Schumacher of Service and Molly Gellert of West won the finals, and the Service boys and West girls took the team wins.
The two seniors breezed to wins in four grueling 2.42-kilometer sprint races — preliminaries, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals — that featured a long uphill near the end before a downhill finish into the stadium.
"Sometimes in the middle of these races I always think that these are the hardest races because you spend a lot of time just hurting really bad and dreading the next race," Schumacher said. "I just wanted to put it all out there, started hard and took as much rest as I could on the downhills."
Schumacher said he didn't know Bergt personally, but he was surprised at how many people he knows who were affected by him.
"You come out here are there are hundreds of people that knew him," Schumacher said. "I learned the most about him in the speech before the final and that really charged me up to race for him and his legacy."
Gellert said her parents are friends of the Bergts.
"It was good that we got to dedicate the race to him because I think that meant a lot to a lot of people," she said.
A memorial ski event for Bergt will be held Sunday, Dec. 10, at 4:30 p.m. at Service.
Team scores — 1) West 29:04.5; 2) Service 31:43.1; 3) South 32:40.8; 4) Colony 32:50.3; 5) Eagle River 34:30.0; 6) Dimond 36:12.3; 7) Palmer 36:52.6.
Finals — 1) Molly Gellert, West; 2) Helen Wilson, Eagle River; 3) Anniak Hanestad, Colony; 4) Quincy Donley, West; 5) Aubrey LeClair, West; 6) Adrianna Proffitt, Chugiak.
Team scores — 1) Service 24:56.9; 2) West 25:00.1; 3) Chugiak 25:45.2; 4) Dimond 26:24.3; 5) Grace 27:24.7; 6) South 28:20.3; 7) Palmer 30:19.7; 8) Eagle River 30:36.7; 9) Colony 30:53.4.
Finals — 1) Gus Schumacher, Service; 2) Eli Hermanson, Service; 3) George Cvancara, Dimond; 4) Maxime German, West; 5) Max Beiergrohslein, Chugiak; 6) Kai Meyers, South....Read more