Nanooks' Often garners GNAC's sportsmanship award
Submitted by Jamie Schanback
Alaska Nanooks skier Einar Often has been selected the winners of the fifth annual Great Northwest Athletic Conference NCAA men's sportsmanship award.
"I don't think that there is anybody more deserving of being recognized with a sportsmanship award than Einar," said head coach Scott Jerome. "It was such a selfless act and he is so humble and low key about it. He doesn't think about it as that big of a deal because its just something that comes natural to him. I think for a lot of people it strikes them as odd because its probably not what a lot of people would have done."
Often, from Tynset, Norway, sacrificed his opportunity to qualify for the NCAA National Skiing championships last winter when he gave his pole to teammate Ray Sabo after Sabo broke his pole during the opening kilometer of the 10K classic race at the NCAA Central Regionals at Biwabik, Minn.
Sabo came into the race just one-tenth of a point away from a berth in the national championships. With Einar's pole, he went on to have one of the best races of his collegiate career, finishing eighth to earn a berth in the NCAA Nationals.
Often was a "bubble" skier himself and his act of sportsmanship effectively ended his hopes to qualify for the NCAAs. After eventually getting a pole from another coach, he went on to finish 23rd in the race.
"Fortunately, Einar is coming back so he has more opportunities to make it," Jerome added. "I think a lot of us are pulling for him, in a lot of ways that hopefully he will make it to the national championships."
Even though he didn't qualify, Often paid his own airfare to the NCAAs in Bozeman, Mont., volunteering to serve as a student-assistant during the championship week - waxing skis and providing support to his teammates on the race course.
In addition to his sportsmanship on the course, Often has also made an effort to give back to his community. He took part in a number of service events, including participating in a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Community Day; a meet-and-greet between local school children and UAF student-athletes.
He also worked as a volunteer coach with the Nordic Ski Club in Fairbanks, helping to teach cross country skiing to local children. He also volunteered his time to help clean and maintain the skiing facilities at the Birch Hill trails in Fairbanks as well as serving as a steward at the annual Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks.
Central Washington's Mallory Holtman was the recipient of the women's award. Holtman, from White Salmon, Wash., was involved in the well-chronicled softball game last April in which she and her CWU teammate Liz Wallace carried WOU's Sara Tucholsky around the bases to complete her home run trot after Tucholsky went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament rounding first base.
Western Oregon won the game 4-2 ending Central Washington's postseason hopes. WOU went on to win the GNAC title and eventually reached the NCAA West Regional championship game before losing to eventual national champion Humboldt State.
That act of sportsmanship earned an ESPY last week in the "best moment" category.
Often and Holtman are now finalists for the 2008 NCAA Division II National Sportsmanship Award, which honors one male and one female athlete from each of the three NCAA divisions who have distinguished themselves through sportsmanship and ethical behavior. Those awards will be announced in late August.