Traditional Games Athletes to Compete This Weekend

    Traditional Games and Native Youth Olympics coach Kyle Worl demonstrates a one-foot high kick during a practice session last year. (Klas Stolpe/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - For the first time in two years, the annual Traditional Games will bring athletes from 30 communities across Alaska to compete in 10 events that are based on ancient hunting and survival skills of Indigenous people.

     

      “I’m pretty excited,” Traditional Games and Native Youth Olympics coach Kyle Worl said. “We’ve kind of been in a little bit of a lull the last two years. We held a smaller event last year, virtual, and like a livestream event. But this is going to be about the size of our 2020 event, which was right before the pandemic. So it is exciting to see the return of the games and several new teams this year. Skagway, Petersburg and Haines, it will be their first time joining us this year so I am excited to see the growth and that it is continuing to grow in Southeast. Each year we are seeing more teams and more athletes.”

    The pandemic closed the games to the public the past two years, but now more than 140 middle school, high school and adult athletes from communities across Alaska will compete across the events.

      Worl noted that the games are for everybody.

      “I think it is really across the board,” Worl said. “I like to think there is a game for everybody. There are strength-based games, there are agility games. Some games favor lighter and smaller people ,where other games favor bigger, like the stick pull. So there is a wide variety of games and I think each athlete will gravitate to certain games that fit them.”

      Worl said his favorite events were the two-foot high kick and the knuckle hop.

      “I love them all and I have tried them all but it probably changes from month-to-month with what I am focused on,” he said. “But right now I’ve been focused on knuckle hop and I’ll probably do that one at the event but I also enjoy the high kicks, and the two-foot high kick is another one that I enjoy.”

      The games are scheduled for 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday in the Thunder Mountain High School main gymnasium.

      According to a release from the Sealaska Heritage Institute, all participants on the gym floor - including athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and staff - are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result prior to participation. A supervised COVID-19 test can be taken up to 72 hours before attending the event or an at-home rapid COVID-19 test up to 24 hours before attending the event. Limited tests will be available on site. No test is required if the participant has had a prior COVID-19 infection and recovery in the last 90 days - after Jan. 1, 2022. Masks are optional only for athletes while they are actively competing and required for all others. Spectators must wear masks and confirm they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

      Worl noted that spectators should watch more than just the athletes competing but also the sportsmanship involved in the games.

      “I think one of the things that makes the sport unique and special is the camaraderie on the gym floor,” Worl said. “And so unlike many other sports where it is sometimes very cutthroat competitive and there are rival teams, it is very different within Traditional Games. You’ll see everybody supporting each other, cheering each other on no matter what team. And even two athletes that, say, are going for the gold medal in the one-foot high kick, they’ll be working with each other, giving each other advice. You can watch that as a spectator and see them pumping each other up and giving advice like, ‘Kick a little bit closer to the ball.’ Even if that means that advice will allow that other athlete to excel past them and out kick them. I think that everyone knows the spirit of the games is supporting each other and reaching your own personal best so it is not about outdoing other people or measuring yourself up to the next person. It is about doing your personal best and I think that makes it really unique and fun to watch. Definitely look out for that. You’ll see athletes, no matter what team, they are all there to do their best and support each other.”

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