The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Tony Gorman
For the Star 

Native Youth Olympics prepares for mini-meet

Valdez athletes ready for state championships later this month


Tony Gorman photo

Student athletes in the Native Youth Olympics Valdez team are hard at practice for upcoming events, including a mini-meet and the statewide competition.

The Valdez Native Youth Olympics team is up and kicking again.

The team has a new look not only with its participants, but with the coaches. Lea Cockerham returns to the team after a year away. He takes over the high school team for Rod Morrison. Morrison, who is the principal of Gilson Middle School, is focused on transitioning his students into their new building. Teacher Robert Huston from Gilson Middle School will coach sixth through eighth grade athletes.

Despite the low participant numbers this year, Cockerham is happy to be back with the team.

"At NYO, it's fun to see the kids enjoy it," Cockerham said. "We do have a process where we have to whittle the team down and claim a spot. We have alternates. That's it. The numbers are there to where we don't have to do that this year."

The top returners on are Shoney Ridderbush, Nick Devens, and Wyatt Knowles. Ridderbush will be competing the one and two-foot high kick events. Devens is expected to compete in the one-foot and the Alaskan high kick. Knowles is competing in the two-foot high kick.

Notably absent from this roster is Marian Wamsley, who holds the world record in the one-foot high kick. Cockerham said she has decided to focus on volleyball and basketball.

Tony Gorman photo

Native Youth Olympics, which are open to all races, encourages team work and encourages athletes to help each other.

"This is a sport that we do get a lot of people who don't do a lot of sports," Cockerham said. "It's the closest to a gymnast-type sport with the flexibility and the jumping and all the things associated with it. So it kind of pulls a slightly different crowd in. And Marian, of course, was an incredible athlete and still is with her strength. Not only was she a world record holder in a kicking event but a state champion in a strength event, the Eskimo stick pull. It's real amazing."

On the middle school side, Huston will be coach the team for the first time. Last year, as a parent and chaperone, he watched his daughter compete at the State NYO event in Anchorage.

"We got a little bit of veterans back and we got a lot newcomers as well," Huston said of his team.

Dakota Brown and Chance McCain are the top returners for the junior high team. Among the newcomers are Ricky Colapietro, Chevon Oxford, and Lariaha Griffith.

The Valdez NYO team will compete in its annual mini-meet this weekend at the Valdez High School Gym. The event is used to help determine who competes in the State Meet in Anchorage on April 25-26.


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