• Cathy B. Parker

Add this high school football game day experience to your bucket list.

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

Barrow Whalers defenders try and tackle an opponent in Barrow, Alaska playing on new turf at Cathy Parker Field.
The Barrow Whalers Football team is so thankful to be playing on Cathy Parker Field

By Author Cathy B Parker

With my husband being a high school football coach in South Georgia and both of us growing up in Title Town USA where football dominates, we may think that only the lower 48 celebrates those Friday night rituals like we do. The fact is, although the climates and customs may vary, the impact this high school sport has had on communities across our Nation builds bridges of understanding and inclusion.

I recently had the privilege of attending a high school football game in our most Northern American City, Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska. Of course there are some similarities to high school football in the southeast, but there are some unique differences which make their game experience off the chart!

Top 10 reasons witnessing a Barrow Whalers’ football game is a must:

1. Most remote football field in the USA located on the frozen tundra. You can’t take a road trip to watch the Barrow Whalers play, but Alaska Airlines offers morning and evening flights daily. Under Armour recently tested their cold gear UA RUSH apparel by sending some NFL players to work out on the field while decked out in the apparel.

2. People all over this nation came together to give Barrow their bright blue artificial turf football field. Representing teamwork at its finest, 13 transportation companies partnered together to transport the products needed for this infamous football field. This grassroots effort of generosity has been followed by national media outlets such as ABC, NBC, ESPN and Sports Illustrated. The book Northern Lights details this national effort and a major motion picture highlighting this amazing story is in pre-production.

3. The game day experience unifies the community, celebrating their Inupiat culture as well as the many ethnic groups who call Barrow home. The concession stand at the ballfield on game day offers native Inupiat dishes such as aaluutaagaq (caribou stew) and pancit with egg roll (a Pilipino dish) to name a few. Tailgaters line the perimeter of the football field grilling and celebrating as a community. Half-time celebrations often include the traditional native dances celebrating thousands of years of their subsistence lifestyle of living off the land, sea and air.

4. It’s the only football field in American where you might catch a glimpse of a polar bear. On my recent trip, as soon as our flight landed we heard that there had been polar bear sightings on the beach near the Top Of The World Hotel. If you are not lucky enough to catch a sighting in town, you can arrange for Tundra Tours to take you on a tour of a lifetime. Whether you see a polar bear or not, you will not be disappointed with all the amazing sights the tundra has to offer.

5. Speaking of polar bears, the polar plunge has become a tradition in celebrating a win. You got that right folks! Forget about throwing Gatorade on the coach after a big win; instead, take an exhilarating plunge into the Arctic Ocean which sits only a few yards from the football field. Even the opposing teams have adopted the tradition by celebrating their win in the same way while in Barrow.

6. The bright blue football field with yellow end zones stands out against the backdrop of grey hues making it noticeable from Google Earth. USA Today has ranked Cathy Parker Field as one of the top high school stadiums in America.

Author Cathy B Parker at Cathy Parker Field in Barrow Alaska
Author Cathy B Parker stands proudly on her field Cathy Parker Field in Barrow Alaska.

7. The Barrow Whalers football program has had a great impact on keeping kids engaged and in school. We have the data to prove it. Just two years after starting the football program and installing the turf field, the graduation rate nearly doubled!

8. It’s great football. The Barrow Whalers were intrigued with the thought of starting a football program when NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka spoke at a school assembly in 2005. In 2006, Barrow became the first community above the Arctic Circle to have a football program. They learned to play the game well when the Bartram Trail football team located in Jacksonville, Florida invited the Barrow Whalers to Florida for a week of spring practice. They learned to play the game well enough to become State Champions in 2017 and will be returning to the State Playoffs on Saturday!

9. The Barrow Whalers are extremely good hosts. Game day for this high school team comes with a lot of preparation and excitement. With the opposing teams traveling in from as far as 800 miles away, they are hosted by the friendly people of Barrow. Be prepared to cheer on the Whaler’s touchdowns by eating homemade “touchdown cookies” provided by one of the proud high school educators.

10. Combines Native American culture into this great American sport. Mirroring their natural understanding of the rugged outdoors and their ability to size up prey, the Barrow Whalers open our eyes to true teamwork and sportsmanship needed to be successful at the game of football. Touring the Inupiat Heritage Center in Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska will open your eyes to this amazing culture.

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