Thirteen athletes from Dillingham City School District will compete in the state senior Native Youth Olympics Games this weekend.
Hosted by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, the NYO state competitions will take place at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
Dillingham’s NYO season is short. Karl Clark, the Dillingham City School District athletic director, has been coaching NYO for 15 years. He said that in such a short season, the coaches are vital.
“We have about five solid weeks to get these athletes ready for state,” he said. “We have an amazing coaching staff, we have Kristin Smeaton, Amanda Luiten and myself, and the athletes are getting a lot out of having that many coaches in the gym at one time.”
Clark said that each event represents a tradition in Alaska Native culture. That foundation has created a distinctive dynamic between teams at the games.
“It’s kind of an individual sport where you want to compete and do your very best,” Clark said. “But you also want to compete and help your competitors do their best as well so they can succeed in life, in their cultural events and the things they do for subsistence hunting.”
Dillingham students are excited to compete. Britney Dray is a senior competing in wrist carry and Alaskan high kick. She placed first in both her events at the South West Region Schools District meet in Dillingham this year and has competed in the state competitions since seventh grade.
“I haven’t been nervous. I look forward to state every year,” she said. “This is my last year – I’ll miss it. I’ll always look back to my high school moments.”
Dray recently switched events; she used to compete in seal hop, but after spraining her wrist she changed to wrist carry and Alaskan high kick.
Justin Dye has gone to state the past three years. His events are kneel jump and wrist carry.
“Freshman year I placed fourth at state, and after that it’s just been motivating me to get first, and sophomore and junior year, I’ve won state, and so that confidence has been rolling, and I’m ready for my third,” he said.
Dye set at personal record for kneel jump at regionals this year. Ralph Evalt took first in Eskimo stick pull at regions. He said that the season has been promising.
“I’m going in a little confident,” he said. “I think that we’re a pretty confident group. Everyone’s uplifting to each other. So, I guess it is kind of like a team sport, because you’ve got your team there motivating you.”
The seniors named a few formidable competitors, among them schools in Utqiaġvik, the Yukon-Kuskakwim Delta, Sitka, and Unalaska. But Karl Clark said that the NYO games aren’t about demolishing the other teams.
“With NYO there’s no specific rivalry. It’s a sport where we come together. Yes, there are some teams that are the powerhouse teams. They’re going to work with our athletes and train our athletes as well, as they’re kicking, jumping or hoping. You kind of share your techniques. So then you’re training your youth to become better hunters, better youth advocates in their community. So they can go out there and they can teach all the other athletes in the state how to compete in these events and do well,” said Clark.
The opening ceremony begins at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, and the games close on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
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