"It" is the Spring King Salmon Derby that wrapped up Thursday for the 11th year of its run in Juneau. While most of the attention has been focused has been on 30-pound plus king salmon, the fish are really just a nice excuse to do a lot of good things for the community, especially the native community of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.
Besides being the more-or-less official start to each Juneau spring, the 31-day event provides thousands of hours of lifetime memories for local families fishing together. There are few things better or more eternal for a young person, boy or girl, than developing an appreciation and love of the outdoors, especially fishing.
This year's Derby was also dedicated to the servicemen and returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Southeast Alaska has many sons and daughters there and still in harm's way, something we can never forget.
It's also very gratifying that this may be the most democratic fishing tournament in existence. There's no special advantage for having more or newer fishing tackle, a bigger boat or even any boat. This year as in most years, Joseph Castillo's 38.2-pound winning salmon and most of the leaders are caught "off the rocks" on Douglas Island, with anglers packing not much more than a spinning rod, a bag of herring and a ton of patience. Castillo, like many past winners, has earned top prize with countless hours, days, even weeks fishing for that one big fish.
Okay, it's fun to see your own name on the leader board, if only for a few days. Even if my own lone little salmon wound up in 75th place (if there was a 75th place)!
Local kids in the Tlingit and Haida communities are the real reason for the Derby, and the real beneficiaries. At least 90 of these kids receive several hundred dollars in financial aid each year to help cover college expenses, thanks to the proceeds generated by the Derby. What's especially compelling is that every T&★ student attending college receives support, not just the elite or a lucky few.
That's especially important because these kids have already beaten the odds by just graduating from high school and continuing their education. About 40 percent of Native students graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School.
Southeast Alaskans take care of each other, and the Spring King Derby may be one of the finest examples of us doing just that. Over the past decade, hundreds of lives and families have been enriched through this financial aid. These are the future leaders of Alaska, and if we can have a little fun and help them too, that's a pretty good investment.