Native Youth Olympics has jumbo-size approvals say organizers
Last week, the Valdez Native Youth Olympics team had a strong presence at the Valdez School Board meeting after athletes, officials and boosters heard its school district funding was in jeopardy. The team’s funding was spared following the board’s vote to not out-source or make further cuts to the popular program.
That same presence - along with a supportive crowd - carried over into the Regional NYO Mini-Meet on Saturday at the Valdez High School gym. Over 35 middle school and high school athletes from Valdez and Tatitlek competed in various events. Nick Devens set two new school records during the event and Mesa Rohrer won the most events out of any competitor with five.
Devens broke his own record in the Alaska High Kick at 81 inches and set another one in the Toe Kick at 80 inches. Devens is the defending state champion in the Toe Kick. Wyatt Knowles finished first in the Kneel Jump at 41 inches, the Two-Foot High Kick at 82 inches, the One Hand Reach at 52 inches, and the Seal Hop at 64 feet, 4 inches. Wyatt Duncan won the Wrist Carry at 325 feet and 8 inches, and the One-Foot High Kick at 92 inches.
State champion Michael McCain will have an opportunity to defend his title in the Indian Stick Pull after defeating Devens at the Mini-Meet. Jacob Connell beat Tatitlek’s George Vlasoff to qualify for the Eskimo Stick Pull.
Rohrer put on a dominating performance on the girls’ side with wins in the Alaska High Kick at 58 inches, One Hand Reach at 42 inches, the Seal Hop at 70 feet, 3 inches, Eskimo Stick Pull, and Indian Stick Pull. Shoney Ridderbush finished first in the Kneel Jump at 29 inches, the Two-Foot High Kick at 62 inches, and the One Foot High Kick at 74 inches. Taylor Houston won the wrist carry at 85 feet and 4 inches.
Valdez NYO head coach Rod Morrison thought the huge turnout made a big statement for the program.
“I believe NYO is an opportunity that we need to keep providing for kids,” Morrison said. “There were kids that struggled, but their self-confidence seemed to carry them through.”
Marian Wamsley, who set a world record in the One Foot High Kick at last year’s State NYO Meet, did not compete in last weekend’s Mini-Meet due to Jazzfest. She qualified at practice on Monday at 84 inches.
The Native Youth Olympics reflect traditional Native tests of strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance, according to Morrison. He said in a written statement that while NYO events are competitive, it is not in a cutthroat way. Athletes assist each other during the events, providing pointers and encouragement and NYO judges often stop to explain a better technique to competing athletes.
Valdez events are open to both middle and high school athletes of all races.
About 21 athletes from Valdez are expected to participate in the State NYO Meet which will be held at the Dena’nina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, April 25-27.