Sitka basketball players helped 11 occupants of this Anchorage six-plex escape the blaze. (Andy Lee photo)

The Sitka High School boys’ basketball team received national recognition this week for rescuing residents from a burning building in Anchorage last year.

The National Federation of State High School Associations announced the news on Monday. Representing the western region, Sitka beat out teams from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming for the National High School Spirit of Sport Award.  

The team was in Anchorage for the state basketball tournament last spring when they saw flames coming from an apartment building. The team’s coach Andy Lee told KCAW last year they were the first on the scene.

No matter how well they do at state, the Sitka Wolves basketball team will return home as winners. (Andy Lee photo)

“And I realized that no one was out of the apartment,” Lee said. “So I dispersed the guys to the perimeter to look for exterior doors and windows, because it was too involved for me to put them at risk.”

While his athletes went around banging on outside windows, Lee went inside, pounding on the doors to the six apartments. The team got all 11 residents out of the burning building and safely across the street.

Lee said  the team returned to the apartment after practice the check on one of the families.

“The elder woman in the home — the grandmother — and the matriarch of the Samoan families that were there kinda hugged us up, took a picture, and thanked us profusely,” Lee explained. “She said they were just able to get back in and retrieve a few possessions, and the fire department was doing the mop up.”

Lee said he was proud of how his team acted during the emergency. He said it could have been a tragedy had the team not spotted the fire and stopped to rescue residents from the burning apartment.

After beating Mt. Edgecumbe at regionals last weekend, the Sitka High School boys’ basketball team will return to Anchorage next weekend to compete in this year’s state championship.

See the 3A Boys state tournament bracket.