- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Keith and Lillian Lauwers came to Anchorage nearly 50 years ago when Keith became pastor at Sand Lake Baptist Church. Since then they’ve spent much of their time sitting down.

The couple responsible for one of Anchorage’s most athletic families, Keith and Lillian have sat through thousands of basketball games, soccer games, volleyball games, baseball games, football games, hockey games, track meets and cross-country races.


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They raised four children, all of them active in sports. Their children all married and produced a dozen more children, all of them active in sports. Lots and lots of sports.

“I’ve had bleacher butt for a long time,” said Keith, 78.

Keeping up with the clan - two Lauwers families at Dimond High (Colton, Dylan and Payton in one. Dax and Kristi in the other), the Karlberg family at Grace Christian (Lou, Leif, Hannah, Hans and Tobin) and the Sims family at South High (Kelsey and Kayla) - can be a full-time but satisfying job.

Nearly all of the grandkids have played on high school state championship teams. Seven of the 12 went on to play college sports and an eighth just signed a letter of intent to play college volleyball. Two are out of college and working as coaches. One just became a pro hockey player with the Colorado Eagles of the ECHL.

Three have been honored as the best in Alaska high school sports - Colton Lauwers was the 2009 Class 4A basketball player of the year, Leif Karlberg was the 2009 Class 3A basketball player of the year and Kayla Sims was the 2014 Gatorade volleyball player of the year and is in the running for this year’s Gatorade soccer award.

When Kayla graduates later this month, only one member of the family will remain in high school - Tobin Karlberg, who is finishing his freshman year at Grace Christian. He was a double-figure scorer for the Grizzlies’ basketball team, hitting a season-high 33 points in a game against Seward.

But the game he remembers best was the one where the Grizzlies beat a Galena team coached by Tobin’s older brother Lou. The victory was a sweet one for Tobin, who as a little kid shouldered his share of setbacks when playing in family pickup games against Lou and his other brothers.

“We grew up playing against each other and I’d always get beat up on,” Tobin said. “I got my shot blocked more than anyone.”

And so it was nice to play a game against one of his brothers in which the brother had to spend the entire game on the sideline.

“I’m definitely glad we won that game,” Tobin said. “It had little higher level of importance.”

Kayla Sims said she had similar feelings when she was a freshman at South and cousin Kristi Lauwers was a senior at Dimond and both played volleyball.

“I loved her and I wanted her to play well,” Kayla said, “but I wanted to beat her so bad. There was no one else I wanted to beat more.”

As competitive as they are when playing organized sports, members of Keith and Lillian’s flock of jocks are apparently even more intense when it comes to backyard whiffleball and basement pingpong.

“Pingpong’s just brutal,” said Calvin Lauwers, Keith and Lillian’s second son and the father of Dax and Kristi.

“Real competitive. Kayla, tell about the time you put your foot through the wall.”

Kayla, a little abashed, obliged.

“Me and Hans were playing pingpong and it was a pretty intense game and I got a really good point on a really long rally,” she said. “I wanted to do a backflip off the wall so I ran to the wall and put my foot through the wall.”

Kayla hung a quilt over the hole, but mom Janice Sims wasn’t fooled. Nor was she surprised - accidents happen when you have a house full or yard full of kids playing games.

One of Tobin’s earliest memories of playing sports is the time he got his first hit in a backyard baseball game.

“Leif tossed me a tennis ball and I hit my first home run,” he said. “It hit a window and the glass plate fell down.”

Despite the broken windows and holes in the wall, sports have been more instructive than destructive for the family, according to patriarch Keith Lauwers.

“There’s a dynamic correlation between the whole realm of athletics and the game of life,” said Keith, a pastor at ChangePoint. “Teamwork, discipline, setting goals, developing a deeper level of friendship.

“.They’ve learned many life lessons through sports.”

Keith and Lilllian both grew up in Canada, where Keith took part in a lot of sports, including pole vault. He remembers fashioning a pole out from a tree branch before graduating to bamboo and then fiberglass. He skied - alpine, nordic and jumping - and for 40 years he played soccer. Lillian was a longtime softball player and is everyone’s favorite pingpong player.

Since the 1970s, the Lauwers family has been part of the Anchorage sports scene.

Brad Lauwers, Keith and Lillian’s oldest, graduated in 1977 from Dimond, where he quarterbacked the football team with a prosthetic leg, the result of childhood cancer. Brad has worked for years as a basketball coach, most recently at his alma mater, and often provides commentary for high school radio broadcasts. His wife Kim is Dimond’s longtime volleyball coach.

Calvin Lauwers, a 1978 Dimond graduate, finished 36th in the 1984 Iditarod. Lana Karlberg, a 1980 Dimond graduate, was a runner and a skier. Janice, a 1983 Dimond graduate, still plays hockey and softball.

Ask various family members who is the most competitive and you get various answers. Lana said Janice. Janice said Kayla. Tobin says Lou.

“My first memory of how competitive we are is a simple Easter egg hunt,” Kayla said. “Grandma would have these huge Easter parties and there’d be tons of kids there. Easter’s supposed to be about the Lord, but we were so competitive during our Easter egg hunts.”

Big family affairs like that happen less frequently now that most of the grandkids are at college or beyond. Kayla, who next fall will begin her freshman year at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California, said nothing can replace those gatherings, which seem to always include a volleyball net, a basketball hoop, a bat and ball or a pingpong table.

“I’m definitely gonna miss our get-togethers, like at Thanksgiving,” she said. “I’m gonna miss the mashed potatoes and I’m gonna miss the competitiveness of family games, whether it’s Catchphrase or pingpong.”


Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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