Native Youth Olympics returns to Kodiak

Brandy Berg leads her Native Youth Olympics teammates through stretching exercises, Thursday in the Main Elementary School gym. (Drew Herman photo)

After a hiatus of several years, Kodiak High School athletes are getting back in the game for the Native Youth Olympics (NYO) with renewed vigor and funding.

“We’re trying to revitalize the program and get some momentum,” team coach Matt Neagley said.

The competition based on traditional Native games includes events such as the Eskimo stick pull, the one-hand reach, the kneel jump, and high kicks from one and two feet. They have their roots in skills that apply to hunting and survival in the Arctic.

“These events are magical. They’re amazing,” Neagley said.

The 2011 statewide competition takes place in Anchorage April 29-May 1. The Kodiak High School squad began preparing this month, meeting Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the Main Elementary School gym. They plan to step up to daily practice after spring break.

Neagley, a KHS history teacher who coached NYO events for two years in Nanwalek on the Kenai Peninsula, said NYO builds self-confidence and camaraderie as well as physical strength and skill.

“We’re both athletes as well as custodians of tradition and Native history,” he said.

The current group of athletes has just started pre-season work, but their coach hopes they can continue the success of earlier Kodiak teams in events and sportsmanship. On Thursday, 12 students came to the training session, and Neagley expects the team to grow.

KHS juniors Liz Antonson and Anthony Malutin are both veterans of the 2007 state competition.

Malutin wants to get back in the groove for a return, and looks forward to tackling events including the one-foot high jump and seal hop.

“It was pretty fun, pretty intense the first time,” he said.

Antonson, who plans to go out for softball this spring, is eyeing the high jumps and Eskimo stick pull for the NYO competition. She likes the way practicing traditional events brings athletes together.

“It’s really fun and a great way to communicate,” she said.

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