Athletes give it their all Native Youth Olympics

Mia Korn, an eight-year-old from McGrath, executes a two-foot high kick at the Junior Native Youth Olympics on February 24, 2018. (Johanna Eurich/KYUK)

Anyone will tell you that strength is not enough. Skill, form, technique and concentration will win the day in most sports, including the Native Youth Olympics (NYO). Those qualities were on exhibit at the Wells Fargo Sports Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage this weekend.

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The two-foot high-kick is a NYO classic. It can be done standing right under the target, or with a running start. The trick is to jump off from two feet, kick your feet forwards and up to hit the ball, and then land back on both feet. Boys and girls compete separately, but at the at the end of Saturday’s Junior NYO competition neither sex had an advantage. Both girls and boys had made kicks up to 55 inches.

That’s way above the heads of youngsters like nine-year-old Mason Logan Beans-Polk from Bethel’s Gladys Jung Elementary School. He had to look up to see the beautiful skin-sewn ball that was his high-kick target. After warming up in his gym shoes, he took them off and stood beneath the ball, measuring the distance with his arms extended. He then took three deliberate steps back, concentrating before making a running jump. He was one of the few who competed barefoot; he had thought that decision through.

“That makes it light and you could kick higher,” Beans-Polk said. “When you kick it makes it way easier to kick without your shoes and socks on.”

Beans-Polk didn’t win the competition, but he came close.

Stewart Towarak, one of the officials, watched. He was a Senior NYO two-foot and one-foot high kick champion when he was in high school. His one-foot high-kick record of 9 feet 6 inches still stands. He says that the youngsters competing in the Junior NYO have a head start. He never even tried the traditional Native games until he was in seventh grade. He observed that any one of the competitors he’s watching could break his record when they get into high school.

“At a young age, you get them interested and it kind of motivates them to get better in all these events and maybe even go through high school,” Towarak said. “For some of these kids this is probably their favorite event throughout the whole year.”

The crowds cheer the kids on, and it is not just the home team that gets the attention. Everyone roots for everyone else; even the opposing coaches are helping their competition improve.

One opposing coach said, “I was telling him he was high enough and he needs to keep his head up, not down, and he’ll kick higher that way.”

It doesn’t matter which community they are from, at the Native Youth Olympics it’s not unusual to hear the entire gym cheering when the athletes succeed.

Johanna Eurich is a contributor for the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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