Banquet & Awards

by Terrie Hanke

February 27, 2023

The Sunday night Finisher’s Banquet marked the 4th time in the past three days when all the Jr. Iditarod mushers were gathered together.  The first being for the musher meeting on Friday, then at the start Saturday morning, next as they camped at Yentna on the shore of the river  and gathered around the campfire and finally Sunday night when famiy, friends, mentors, sponsors and fans gathered at Joe Redington High School for the banquet, sharing a meal, stories and camaraderie. 


This was the first year the banquet was held at the Joe Redington High School.  The banquet feast was served up by Fish On Camp Grill.   The race started on Knik Lake and ended on Knik Lake across the road from where Joe’s old boat sits on the shore of the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet.  Very historic and appropriate.  Also of interest, The Iditarod Trail Invitational started on Sunday afternoon with bikers, walkers and skiers heading down the trail from Knik Lake to McGrath, Unalakleet and even on to Nome.  Over the week end, Knik Lake was the showcase of dog powered and human powered sport.


During the banquet, each musher was invited to the podium by Race Marshal, Dakota Schlosser then asked to share a memorable moment from their race.  Truly, the line on the map was the same for everyone but the experience for each musher was completely unique.  Scott Janssen, the Mushing Mortician was the featured speaker.  Janssen himself is an Iditarod veteran with many stories to share and now drives race cars with many more stories. 


Jr. Iditarod named the late Lance Mackey as their Honorary Musher for the 2023 race.  Lance’s father Iditarod Champion, Dick Mackey, represented Lance.  He was presented Bib #1 signed by all the mushers and a framed piece of art depicting the northern lights illuminating a mushing trail through the woods.  Dick was emotional as he accepted the artwork and said, ”It was a magical thing to watch him (Lance) work with dogs.”


The junior mushers don’t race for cash prizes, but through generous sponsorship by the Iditarod Trail Funding Committee and Janssen’s Funeral Home, all finishers will receive a scholarship.  A total of $26,000 will be awarded in scholarships that can be applied to higher education or special learning.  Sled Dog Systems has provided a Wolverine II Mid-Distance sled that will go to the winner of the race.  Merchants throughout the valley generously support the Jr. Iditarod with prizes that are awarded to each finisher.  Everyone goes home with a plethora, literally buckets full or a sled full,  of useful mushing gear. 


Emily Robinson of Nenana claimed the 2023 crown and now owns back to back Jr. Iditarod championships. She received a $6,000 scholarship and the Wolverine sled amongst other prizes.  In Second place by just 15 minutes Morgan Martens, the 2021 Jr. Champ, received $4,000 in Scholarship dollars.  Ellen Redington received $2,500 for third place, Jace Cogdill $2,000 for 4th and Isaac Redington $1,500 for 5th place.  All other finishers received $500.


Special awards are always a highlight of the banquet.  Isaac Redington of Wasilla, was the highest placing rookie musher and was honored as the Rookie of the Year.  Veteran James Shawcroft of Fairbanks earned the Red Lantern for perseverance.  Both of these awards are calculated on where a musher finishes.  Other awards are voted upon.


The Blue Harness award goes to a lead dog that has a remarkable race.  Shooby, leader for Lacy Kuehl, did what lead dogs do – lead.  When Lacy became ill on the trail, she told Shooby we need to get to a checkpoint.  Shooby did the job, bringing Lacy and the team to Yentna.  In the time of need, one might say Shooby was large and in charge!


Mushers, whether they are rookies or veterans, in Iditarod or Jr. Iditarod will say receiving the Humanitarian Award for excellence in dog care is more meaningful that winning the race. Veteran Bristol Huffman from Kotzebue was chosen by the veterinarians for Humanitarian honors.  Bristol received a $2,000 scholarship.  


The Sportsmanship Award is voted upon by the mushers themselves.  Who better to know the most helpful and encouraging musher on the trail?  Rookie Tara Crossman from Maine was honored with this award.  While on the trail, Tara was flexible and adapted to change when she parked behind a team slated to leave after her from Yentna.  Within a few miles of the finish, she helped another musher get her dogs going and wouldn’t leave until the second team was on their feet and following her team to the finish.  Tara received a $2,000 Scholarship.


Race officials and veterinarians praised the youth for their mushing, camping and dog care skills.  Dogs stood at the finish line clearly wondering why they had to stop – running was so much fun.  There is one champion but all of the Jr. Iditarod mushers are winners.  They are all responsible individuals who accept and embrace challenge.  They are the future for mushing and humanity.  The thrill is not in victory but in the courage to join the race.  Congratulations to all.