UTQIAGVIK, Alaska (KTUU) - Blue turf, blistering winds, and brutal cold are just a few of the lines that come to mind in visiting the Barrow High School football field in Utqiagvik.
"We are a school isolated from everybody," said Principal Robbie Swint, Jr. "This is the second-most isolated place in the world. We can survive anything that we go through."
Despite all its glory, the fate of the football field, the one on which this year's state runners-up train day in and day out, is up in the air. The field itself is succumbing to erosion, and the path to get there is threatened by the Arctic Ocean, which has slowly crept toward the field over the past couple of decades.
"This field is laid straight on the tundra," said Barrow Head Football Coach Chris Battle, "so we have to deal with the erosion in some spots. We've got some low spots to fill in and stuff."
The ocean, Battle said, keeps pushing the beach back and closer to the field. Neither he nor Swint is sure how much longer they'll be able to utilize the field, donated in the early 2000s, but he said he hopes there might be a bit more time for them.
"Five to ten years, we hope," Battle said, "but I doubt it."
Swint said that even beyond the colder-than-cold conditions, it's the roadway that may become the biggest problem first.
"You can travel on it now," he said, "but we had some people come out and do a survey and they're thinking, the next three to five years, this road will be hard for them to travel on."
The cold conditions don't appear to have been a problem for the school, though a covered field is among the considerations for whenever the field is moved.
"I haven't seen a cutoff temperature," Swint said. "I know last year, I think we were like 60 below. And it didn't stop us from school, it didn't stop us from doing anything we needed to do."
Battle said part of the lesson lies in committing to a team that practices in such brutal conditions.
"We play on the football field," he said, "and that's where we're going to practice - on the football field. We're in the Arctic Circle. So we have to bundle up, come out here, and get the work done."
Besides the eventual move, no one knows for certain what lies ahead for the Barrow Whalers.
"We're trying to build these men to be better not only on the field but outside of it too," Swint said. "Winning or losing a game, I think (Head Coach Battle)'s winning the souls and hearts of players and family and community. We want to make this a great place to be."
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