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Camaraderie and Culture

Side-by-side pictures of an NYO competitor preparing for, then executing, a one-foot high kick inside the St. Michael school gym.

If you ask a Western Alaska school-aged child to name their favorite sport, the most common response will likely be “Native Youth Olympics,” or NYO.

Each year, middle- and high-school students train to compete in a variety of specialized games. NYO events are a way for students to get fit, set goals, build camaraderie, take pride in their school and hometown, and, of course, have fun. Regional NYO games held throughout Alaska give student athletes a chance to test their training. The NYO finals in Anchorage bring extra pride when local competitors place well against students from across the state.

Each NYO event resembles a skill or type of dexterity needed for subsistence. For example, the “Eskimo Stick Pull” trains athletes to grasp slippery fish or marine mammals: competitors pull opposite ends of a greased wooden rod. The athlete who maintains grip longer wins. High-kick and broad jump events encourage the type of nimbleness and flexibility useful for hunting.

NYO teams gather inside the St. Michael gymnasium for a parade.

Village teams gather for a parade. Photo: Karen Trop, KNOM.

This year’s NYO athletes from Western Alaska have shown impressive results in high kick events. Two athletes from Unalakleet — Allie and Arctic Ivanoff — both placed first in the One-Foot High Kick in the girls’ and boys’ divisions, respectively, at the statewide NYO in Anchorage. Allie kicked a small beanbag suspended in the air at a height of 91 inches, while Arctic reached 106 inches — just 14 inches shy of the height of a basketball rim.

NYO competitions are organized to give students a strong foundation in sportsmanship and community. NYO coach Nick Hanson told KNOM listeners “sportsmanship is key, because if you’re not out there helping each other get better, then no one is going to get better! We’re out here to teach, and be ambassadors of our community, and of our culture… Whatever you know, if there’s someone who’s struggling, you help them out.” Hanson has gained both local and national fame as a recurring competitor on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior.” He says that there’s a similar sense of “camaraderie” between that show and NYO. But, he clarifies, “NYO is where it started.”

Paul “Bebucks” Ivanoff echoed Hanson’s assessment of what makes NYO special. “My daughter is competing, but you know, we’re here to support all the kids, and the Unalakleet Wolfpack. It’s just great to see these amazing athletes perform. This is unlike any sport that you’ll watch, where coaches and athletes encourage each other to do their best – whether it’s for first place or otherwise. It’s really encouraging to see all the kids perform, and do their best.”

You can learn more about this year’s Native Youth Olympics through a series of stories by Karen Trop; they’re all available right here at knom.org:

Image at top: Reaching for a goal: at an NYO meet in St. Michael, student Allie Ivanoff of Unalakleet prepares herself for a One-Foot High Kick attempt — then, leaps up to kick the suspended sealskin beanbag. Allie broke the regional record for the event at the St. Michael competition, then took first at the state final in Anchorage. Photos: Karen Trop, KNOM.

One NYO athlete helps another stand up from the gymnasium floor.

Athletes helping each other. Photo: Karen Trop, KNOM.

Two boys compete in the Eskimo Stick Pull inside the St. Michael school gymnasium.

The “Eskimo Stick Pull.” Photo: Karen Trop, KNOM.


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