In January 1979, Kenai Coach Bill Bacon discovered there was a rule against using a stage curtain to distract free throw shooters. Photo by Dick Shellhorn

Basketball season is approaching its climax, and there is little doubt that Naismith’s invention is the biggest sport in Alaska. From the smallest village in western Alaska to the biggest cities in the state, gymnasiums of every size and color scheme are filled with fans rooting for their home team. 

These days, almost every school in the state from 1A to 4A has a nice modern facility that is a source of pride and center of community activity. 

In the drama of the moment sometimes that action can be downright bizarre. And occur not even within the confines of the court.  

Consider distracting a free throw shooter by moving a stage curtain, which happened in January 1979 right here at the CHS court. 

The Kenai Cardinals were in town. Kenai had an enrollment four times Cordova, and they were accustomed to a very physical brand of upper division hoops. 

Ironically, they were coached by Bill Bacon, who had coached the Cordova boys the six years prior to moving on to the bigger school. As it just happens, I had been Bill’s assistant coach here for four years.  I had even refereed several of his games here. I would head down to the locker room to don a striped shirt after coaching the JV boys’ contest. No problem. 

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Jerry Bendzak was my partner. Kenai picked up a couple “T’s” (technical fouls) early in the game involving sportsmanship as we tried to control a game, which was turning into a real challenge in terms of game management. 

Anyone familiar with the CHS court knows there is a large stage at one end that can be closed off with a heavy blue curtain. The base of the stage is three feet above the court surface.   

Visiting teams were housed in classrooms except when school was in session. Then they stayed in the library or on the stage with the curtains closed until a classroom was available. 

So, it turned out that the non-varsity Kenai boys were still on the stage during the varsity game. 

It was obvious from the get-go the last thing that was on their mind was resting or doing make-up schoolwork. The closed curtain was moving back and forth. The wrestling mats had been put on the stage to serve as sleeping padding, yet clearly they were not being put to that use.  

Jer and I repeatedly reached through the slot between the closed curtains to ask them to knock it off – to no avail.  

When they began sticking their heads through the curtain in an attempt to distract Cordova free throw shooters, we had to do something. 

I blew my whistle and called a technical foul. Coach Bacon wanted to know who it was on.  

When I said it was on the curtain he couldn’t believe it. 

“You can’t call a foul on the curtain,” he exclaimed. “That’s not in the Rule Book!” 

I replied: “Actually we can. There is a section in the Rule Book called Officials and Their Duties. It states that ‘the referee has authority to deal with any situation not covered by the rules in this book.’” 

Needless to say, Cordova shot two free throws for the “tech” – and all the activity behind the curtain stopped. 

The referee’s circle is tight-knit group throughout Alaska, and so is the coach’s network. Word of the call spread rapidly. 

And endured. That call was made in January 1979. When I was at the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association gathering in March 2022, a coach came up to me and said “You know what? I was Bill Bacon’s assistant coach that year. And I still remember that call.” 

Let’s see. That was 43 years ago.   

It must have been one of my best calls ever. 

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