Native Youth Olympics

Student competitors practice the scissor board jump with assistant coach Torah Zamora for the Native Youth Olympics on Thursday at Tongass School of Arts and Sciences gymnasium. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

For the second year in a row, Ketchikan will send a team of student athletes to the Native Youth Olympics state tournament in March

A 35-year period without Ketchikan team representation in NYO competition ended last year when a team of three young Ketchikan athletes competed in tournaments in Juneau and Anchorage.

Two weeks ago, practices for the team — which, as of the first session, included six student athletes — began in the gym at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences.

Jhasen Seludo, Wilfred Agoney and Sophie Agoney are returning members. First-time members include Bella Agoney, Matilda Rayber and Maretta Rayber.

The group is coached by Clint Shultz, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at TSAS. Shultz has not only competed in NYO himself, but has acted as a coach during his time as a teacher employed with the Bering Strait School District in Unalakleet.

Shultz is assisted by co-coaches Starla Agoney of Houghtaling Elementary School and Torah Harding-Laman of Schoenbar Middle School.

According to Shultz, the team is open to any sixth- through 12th grade student. The team will continue to practice every Tuesday and Thursday through the end of the month. In March, the group will travel to the 2020 Traditional Games tournament in Juneau, before also competing at the NYO state tournament in Anchorage this April.

Shultz explained that the events are based on traditional Alaska Native activities and games.

He said that for many competing student athletes, the historical value of the games is an important reason to compete.

“We get a cultural connection for kids that are Alaska Native here, and for a lot of these kids who have grown up with these games, both in their households and in their communities, it's a pretty big deal to be able to showcase them,” he told the Daily News before the team's first practice.

There are about 10 total events in the competition.

“Although they're kind of individual sports, it's not really about being the best, it's just about doing your personal best,” Shultz said about the events. “So there's a piece there that is really engrained into the sports of the students just trying to break their own record. And then the camaraderie that takes place. … This is one of the unique events that you will see athletes from around the state going around and supporting one another, even if it means that that student is going to end up kicking the best and jumping the farthest.”

Events include the one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick, Alaskan high kick, the kneel jump, scissor broad jump, “seal hop,” stick pole, Indian stick pole and wrist carry.

The new members got their first experiences with these events last Tuesday, during an orientation session and practice for the team.

Shultz relied on the returning athletes to demonstrate how each event would work in a competitive setting.

Some events, like the high kicks, require balance and agility.

Seludo demonstrated how a one-foot and two-foot high kick would work in a competition.

A ball was suspended from the rafters of the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences' gym. Seludo stood about an arms-length from the ball and kicked up, making contact with the ball and landing on one foot.

“All you have to do is clip it,” Shultz told the group, adding that in a tournament, they’d have three attempts at this event.

Shultz emphasized that in competition, it was crucial to maintain balance on one foot until the judges said otherwise.

“Everything that we're going to do is about getting a good landing,” Shultz said, also referring to events like the kneel jump.

Other aspects of the games, like the “seal hop,” focus on endurance. In this event, as demonstrated to the team by Wilfred Agoney, a participant assumes a push-up position on the ground and attempts to make it as far as possible by bouncing up and down on their toes and knuckles.

Events like the Indian stick pole rely on strategy.

“It doesn't matter how big or strong you are,” Shultz said of this event, in which two participants vie for control of a rod slicked with Crisco.

This event is different from the stick pole, which relies on strength. In this event, participants are seated with their feet braced against each other. When given the signal, the competitors try to pry the pole away from each other without pulling or twisting the stick.

The practice and orientation lasted for roughly an hour before Shultz and his assistant coaches dismissed the athletes for the day.

The 2020 Traditional Games competition will be held in Juneau early next month. The Ketchikan team will also compete in the state NYO tournament in late April in Anchorage.