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Eagle Blue

A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

Michael D'Orso

Bloomsbury USA

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ISBN10: 1596911158
ISBN13: 9781596911154


336 Pages



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Eagle Blue follows the Fort Yukon Eagles, winners of six regional championships in a row, through the course of an entire 28-game season, from their first day of practice in late November to the Alaska State Championship Tournament in March. With insight, frankness, and compassion, Michael D'Orso climbs into the lives of these fourteen boys, their families, and their coach, shadowing them through an Arctic winter of fifty-below-zero temperatures and near-round-the-clock darkness as the Eagles criss-cross Alaska in pursuit of their—and their village's—dream.


Praise for Eagle Blue

"D'Orso magnificently chronicles the ups and downs and dramas and comedies on the road, on the basketball court and in the village of Fort Yukon. Eagle Blue is at once a riveting sports story and an incredible exploration of the collision of cultures on one of the planet's few remaining frontiers."—Seattle Post Intelligencer

"[A] heartfelt homage to a proud, indigenous people who hope to soar with their Eagles, a fleeting escape from the lives often battered by more than the Arctic winds."—People Magazine (Critic's Choice)

"D'Orso . . . spent a season with [the Fort Yukon Eagles], attending every practice and game, and came back from the cold with a fascinating book."—Oregonian

"An intimate look at how a high-school basketball team carries the flame of ethnic pride for the native citizens of an Alaskan bush village. Readers familiar with D'Orso's investigation of the modern despoiling of the Galapagos Islands will rightly suspect that there's more afoot here than a rousingly inspirational parable of local basketball. Indeed, his story of 14 athletes, a coach and their families experiencing a typical season in Fort Yukon, where excellence in the sport is demanded, unfolds in a foreboding atmosphere of cultural conflict. The overwhelming majority of Fort Yukon's residents, players and fans included, are Gwich'in tribal natives, a subset of the Athabascan Indians (not the ethnically disparate Eskimo peoples) who populated Alaska's interior long before the U.S. laid out a bargain-basement $7.2 million for its real estate and natural resources. The author has no trouble finding a Gwich'in spokesperson who equates that historic purchase with the 'theft' of Manhattan for $24 in trinkets and beads. The spokesman also laments the inevitable erosion of traditional skills and values brought on by 'mailbox money' (monthly stipends from billions in oil revenues and drilling-rights settlements with native tribes) even while he, like the others, regularly cashes the checks as a buffer against abject poverty. D'Orso fills in the background: Servicemen posted to Alaska's Cold War radar installations brought gymnasiums; pioneer Gwich'in hoopsters not only picked up the finer points of the game but unabashedly recall that they were seen as 'quick' even by the black players who taught them. Fort Yukon High's Eagles carry on the tradition, crisscrossing Alaska by van and bush plane in the subzero winter to perennially challenge larger schools for a state championship that, today, validates the character and essence of a people in the twilight of assimilation. Sympathetic and revelatory."—Kirkus Reviews

"Eight miles above the Arctic Circle, there's a village with no roads leading to it, but a high school basketball tradition that lights up winter's darkness and a team of native Alaskan boys who know 'no quit.' D'Orso follows the Fort Yukon Eagles through their 2005 season to the state championship, shifting between a mesmerizing narrative and the thoughts of the players, their coach and their fans. What emerges is more than a sports story; it's a striking portrait of a community consisting of a traditional culture bombarded with modernity, where alcoholism, domestic violence and school dropout rates run wild. One player compares Fort Yukon to a bucket of crabs: 'If one crab gets a claw-hold on the edge . . . and starts to pull itself out, the others will reach up and grab it and pull it back down.' Among D'Orso's unusual characters are the woman who built a public library in her home, the families who adopt abandoned children, and, of course, the boys for whom 'hard' has an entirely different meaning (e.g., regularly trudging through 'icy darkness' to board flights to Fairbanks for games). With a ghostlike presence, D'Orso lends a voice to a place that deserves to be known."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Michael D'Orso

Michael D'Orso is the author of more than a dozen books, including Plundering Paradise, Like Judgment Day, Like No Other Time (with Tom Daschle), and Walking with the Wind (with John Lewis).