Last week I found out my niece was going to compete in the Native Youth Olympics at Begich Middle School in Anchorage, so I decided to swing by and see what it was all about. The competitors were just first and second graders, but the competition was full of the pure emotion and excitement that makes sports fun.
The Native Youth Olympics are made up of events like the seal hop, the stick pull, leg wresting and the two foot high kick. If you spent time in the Anchorage school district as a kid, you might remember getting introduced to these events in physical education class.
The only event I was able to witness on Sunday was the stick pull event. The stick pull is a contest of strength that was originally created by native Alaskans to help build the skills necessary to pull seals into a boat.
The contestants sit on the ground, facing each other with the soles of their feet pressed together and their legs at a 45-degree angle. The stick is round, 20 inches long and 1-¼ inches in diameter, and it is placed above their feet. The competitor’s hands are placed on the stick with palms facing the floor. Then they basically play tug-of-war.
One contestant gets to grip the outside of the stick and the other places their hands on the inside of the stick. In the spirit of fairness this hand position alternates each round with the initial hand position determined by a coin toss. Contestants are not allowed to re-grip or jerk the stick in an attempt to win the pull. They will forfeit the round if an official sees them do either.
If a contestant gets pulled over by their opponent, falls sideways to the floor, or loses their grip on the stick with one or both hands, they will lose the round. In the case of the first and second graders on Sunday, the stick pull was usually ended by one contestant losing their grip with both hands.
Sportsmanship was promoted throughout the contest, with each competitor prompted to shake hands at the conclusion of each match. It was routine to see the loser of each match massaging their hands as though in pain, while the winner held the stick in victory.
The events seen at the Native Youth Olympics are uniquely Alaskan. They are no more complicated than basic track and field events that most of us are familiar with, and they are every bit as impressive and entertaining to watch.
Below is a video of a two foot high kick in which the athlete has to jump and kick the hanging ball with both feet and land safely back down on both feet. Don’t try this one at home.