North Pole’s Dakota Darby becomes first Interior, Alaskan to sign flag football scholarship, will also wrestle for Ottawa University

Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 9:04 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Interior, Alaska has seen a good deal of athletes sign a national letter of intent for collegiate wrestling and has even seen its share of dual-scholarship athletes. What Interior, Alaska has never seen is what North Pole’s multi-sport star Dakota Darby accomplished when she put pen to paper Monday.

Darby signed a dual-scholarship to Ottawa University in Kansas to wrestle - and play flag football - becoming the first athlete out of this part of Alaska to play college flag football.

“I really hope to put inspiration into everyone, despite it being an odd sport for Alaska,” said Darby on being a ‘first-of-her-kind’. “It honestly drives me to do better, it makes me want to work as hard as I can to hold that example. It puts butterflies in my stomach knowing that. Never limit yourself.”

Two of the area’s fastest growing youth sports are girl’s wrestling and flag football, both receiving a huge boost from Darby’s participation and dominance over recent years.

Women’s Flag Football officially became a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) sport last year, with the inaugural season featuring 15 schools currently taking place this spring with at least two athletes from Anchorage competing. As the sport of flag football continues to flourish across the country, Darby was a large part of its growth here in Alaska.

Prior to her senior season, North Pole’s flag football season was in jeopardy if they didn’t come up with enough players to field a team. Darby and the Patriots rallied enough girls to not only have a season, but a historic one at that.

Darby was the starting quarterback, safety and Captain for North Pole, leading the Patriots to their first-ever District Championship in 2020 after defeating the Interior’s previous champions.

A dual-threat quarterback - able to do damage with her arm and her legs - Darby also led the team in flag pulls on defense, while snatching 7 interceptions from opposing team’s QBs.

“This kid...holy smokes,” said North Pole Flag Football head coach Mat Croan. “She is an extremely hard worker, she is driven and she drives everybody else around her, which is just a quality that cannot be taught. Knowing her as made me a better coach.”

As talented as she is on the gridiron, it was college wrestling that Darby had her eyes set on since she first took to the mats in 6th grade, wrestling against boys. Six years later, girls have their own divisions in Alaska with its own state champions - where North Pole came out on top in 2020 - another example of Darby’s involvement in the growth of these sports.

“We started raising the girl’s [wrestling] sport back then and she was a part of it,” said her middle school wrestling coach John Schumaker.

Her dedication year in and year out launched her to the top of the 130 lb. class in Alaska girl’s wrestling in 2021, ranked 1st in the state with a 14-0 record this year. Schumaker described Darby’s wrestling style as a dog playing tug-of-war with a chew toy.

“That is kind of what she does to her opponents, she grabs them and shakes them to death,” he said followed by laughs from supporters at the North Pole High School Auditorium. “I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think she will do very well at state this year.”

The 2021 Alaska State Wrestling Tournament is scheduled for May 21-22 at a location TBD, with Darby looking to improve upon her 4th place finish from last year.

Darby has taken much of what she has learned from wrestling and applied it to her academics. She was a part of the North Pole student council, maintained a 3.3 GPA and plans to study kinesiology in college.

“Since I was very little, I’ve had a very hard time with patience and calming myself down, because I need things to be done perfectly. My teachers and my coaches have taught me to take things slow and eventually things will develop on its own,” Darby added.

Also a large factor in Darby’s development on and off the field/mat comes from the support of her mother Jamie and her father Jeff, who was also one of Dakota’s flag football coaches throughout high school career.

“From as young as I can remember, she has always put in the effort all the time,” said an emotional Jeff Darby. “She is an inspiration to me.”

In addition to flag and wrestling, Darby has also participated in cross-country running, track, basketball and swim for North Pole.

Ottawa’s Flag Football program is currently competing in its inaugural season and are performing at an elite level with a 10-1 record. The Braves are led by head coach Liz Sowers and feature players from Canada, Florida, Nevada - and next year - Alaska. The wrestling program was led by interim head coach Colby Crank in 2021 and have had 30 All-American honors in its program since 2014-15.

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