Didrickson was selected for the honor over the weekend, along with former Eilson football coach Buck Nystrom.
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Didrickson first rose to prominence in basketball as a student at what was then Sheldon Jackson School in Sitka, where he graduated in 1946. Didrickson says the main influence of World War II on his game was the opportunity to play against college athletes who had joined the military, and were based in Sitka. “I give a lot of credit to the Navy being there, and teaching us a few things, along with those college boys,” he says.
Didrickson is in Anchorage undergoing medical treatment. He was characteristically modest on hearing the news that he had been named to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
“Teammates that brought you further, that made you so much better. I give a lot of credit to my teammates.”
The roster of players who shared the court with Didrickson at Sheldon Jackson School reads almost like a hall of fame in its own right: Joe Truitt, David Leask, Lawrence “Buddy” Widmark, Jr., and Ed Benson.
Later, in Didrickson’s years dominating Gold Medal Basketball, he was teamed up with players on a Sitka ANB squad that included Moses Johnson, Gerry Helland, Willie Joseph, and Frank O. Williams.
Didrickson was the first player ever named to the Gold Medal Basketball Hall of Fame, in 1961, three years before his retirement.
Nominating documents refer to Didrickson as far more than a regional standout – he is described one of the most gifted athletes of his era, who was recruited by the Seattle Rainiers to play minor league baseball.
Didrickson says he considered an athletic career beyond Sitka and the region, but he made family his priority.
“At this particular time, my wife was carrying our daughter. So, not knowing too much about going to classes in college and playing basketball, I was worried about being able to support my family. So I just dropped it.”
Didrickson married his high school sweetheart Pollyanna Lott in 1948, a marriage that has endured 64 years.
This was the third time Didrickson had been nominated for the Alaska Hall. Director Harlow Robinson says it became evident over the years that “This was someone who needed to be in the Hall,” he said. “He was an iconic, legendary figure in his era.”
Along with Didrickson and Nystrom, who won 150 games at Eilson and North Pole in a thirty-year career coaching high school football, the Alaska Sports Hall selected the Fairbanks Equinox Marathon for induction in the “Events” category; and Soldotna fisherman Les Anderson’s 97-lb. king salmon, and Chris Clark’s 2000 Olympic marathon trial victory in the “Moments” category.
A panel of eight sports writers, broadcasters, and coaches comprise the selection committee. The voting public serves as the ninth member.
There were forty-three nominees this year. The Alaska Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 2007. Susan Butcher and Tommy Moe were among those named.
Didrickson and Nystrom will be inducted in a ceremony at the Anchorage Museum this coming February.