West Legion team wins Trajan Langdon Youth Award

Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | May 10, 2021

The West Post 1 Legion team has won the Trajan Langdon Youth Award as voted by the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame Board of Directors over fellow finalists the Juneau-Douglas boys basketball team and Ninilchik boys basketball team.

In July of last summer, West helped head coach John Opinsky walk off the field a winner for the final time after the Eagles scored three runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and final inning to beat Wasilla 3-2 for its first state title since 1977.

Jack Opinsky had the game-winning hit, an emotional moment for him and his father John, who had battled terminal brain cancer throughout the season.

“(Jack) gave me one of the hardest hugs of his life. I will never forget it,” John Opinsky told the Anchorage Daily News.

Five months later, John Opinsky passed away. He was 52.

Opinsky was survived by wife Cathy and their three sons Jack, Nicko and Jimmy.

“After the last game of the season, John gathered the team and professed his love for his wife, his boys and his team,” Wilson said. “To steal a line from Lou Gehrig, he essentially declared himself ‘the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.’”

Opinsky coached all three of his sons in Little League, and Jack and Nicko played for him in high school and Legion. Both guys were on the 2020 title team, although Nicko missed the second half of the season after getting injured sliding into third base.

At the state tournament, Jack, a shortstop, won the Gold Glove Award and provided a storybook ending to West’s first championship in 43 years.

The Juneau basketball finished with a 16-1 record but had to turn down a state tournament berth due to a Juneau School District policy that prohibited travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Crimson Bears were the only qualifying team in the state not allowed to travel and compete for a state championship.

The JDHS team unsuccessfully lobbied for a solution that would have allowed them to compete.

“I am proud of the way they handled themselves with class, dignity, and humility,” coach Robert Casperson said of his players.

Ninilchik hoops team lost a controversial Peninsula Conference championship game to Lumen Christi 72-71 on a last-second 3-pointer that officials later said should not have counted because of a time clock error.

Ninilchik filed a protest and appealed the ruling to no avail.

Lumen Christi went on to win the state championship while Ninilchik had to stay home.

“We need to keep our chin up. We did the right thing, you boys did the right thing, and be proud of where you are and what you’ve done,” the Nikiski faculty and staff told the players, according to the Nikiski principal in an Anchorage Daily News article.

Trajan Langdon Youth Award honors a youth or group of youths who demonstrated leadership, integrity and sportsmanship during the past year and positively influenced and inspired others to be better sportsmen or sportswomen. Recipient(s) must be in high school or younger at time of selection.