With dozens of their peers huddled closely around them, Mendenhall River Community School fifth-grade students Maxie Lehauli and Jaiden Miller sat facing one another on a blue mat.
With the soles of their feet touching and knees bent at a 45-degree angle, the students gripped a cylindrical wooden stick, Lehauli’s hands on either side of Miller’s.
Miller had just pried the stick from the Lehauli’s grasp, and one final round would determine the winner of the the Eskimo Stick Pull at the Junior Native Youth Olympics Friday night at Riverbend Elementary School.
“One, two, three, go!” a young girl in grey sweats ordered.
Lehauli thrust her shoulders back, pulling the stick over her feet and forcing it out of the hands of Miller, who stood looking up at the gym ceiling for a moment in defeat as students and parents cheered on Lehauli’s win.
“I wasn’t here for the winning, I was just here for fun,” Miller said.
The stick pull was one of six NYO events that would test the strength and stamina of students from MRCS, Riverbend, Auke Bay and Glacier Valley Elementary Schools. The competition — open to second graders and up — also featured the one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick, seal hop, scissors broad jump and Alaska high kick.
A total of 98 kids signed up for the event, according to MRCS gym teacher Sunshine Winn.
Along with Lehauli, Ezra Vidal (Auke Bay), Brayden Falls (Auke Bay), Noah Lewis (MRCS) and Jayden Johnson (Riverbend) won individual events.
Vidal jumped six inches higher than the rest of the competition in the one-foot high kick with 62-inch jump.
“I had no idea he was that flexible, that he could kick that high,” said Tianna Vidal, Ezra’s mother.
The competition was more about fostering sportsmanship than anything else, Glacier Valley NYO coach Marcus Gho said.
“The purpose of these games is to foment more community,” Gho said. “These games are a lot different than other competitive events where people try to win at all costs. At these games, you compete with other people to bring people together and I like seeing how that happens here.”
Gho, 39, makes the sea otter and seal fur ball used in the kicking events himself.
Gho, whose parents helped run the World Eskimo Indian Games, awards the winners in the kick events with their own ball to keep. Gho also donates the balls to the schools for the kids to practice on.
“If a school is going to have a Native games program, I’m happy to support them in that,” he said.
Nine-year-old Skyler Oliva, one of Gho’s 22 athletes at the games, came in fourth place in the seal hop.
The slight third grader was eager to improve on her seal hop debut last year.
“I got 47 feet last year and I think I could’ve got farther,” Oliva said. “And I did (today).”
Oliva crushed her old record by over 20 feet this year. The hop challenges contestants to remain in a lowered push up position as they “hop” forward on their toes and palms.
2018 Jr. Native Youth Olympics — Top 6
One-foot high kick
1, Ezra Vidal, Auke Bay, 62 inches. 2, Peyton Wheeler, Mendenhall River, 56”. 3, Cassie Lumba, Riverbend, 55”. 4, Jasiah Hunter, Riverbend, 55”. 5, Kellen Chester, Auke Bay, 52”. 5, Marlin Cox, Auke Bay, 52”. 5, Skylar Oliva, Glacier Valley, 52”.
Two-foot high kick
1, Noah Lewis, Mendenhall River, 38”. 2, Reynaldo Domingo, Riverbend, 37”. 3, Christian Brown, Auke Bay, 37”. 4, Marliin Cox, Auke Bay, 37”. 5, Taylor Mesdag, Riverbend, 36”. 6, Gunnar Niere, Mendenhall River, 36”
Alaska high kick
1, Jayden Johnson, Riverbend, 51”. 2, Leif Richards, Auke Bay, 48”. 3, CJ Nelson, Riverbend, 47”. 4, Ike Puustinen, Riverbend, 46”. 5, Ezra Vidal, Auke Bay, 43”. 6, Heath Hill, Auke Bay, 43”.
Scissor broad jump
1, Brayden Falls, Auke Bay, 19’ 07”. 2, Natalie Travis, Mendenhall River, 18’ 01”. 3, Jayden Johnson, Riverbend, 17’ 10”. 4, Reanna Maloney, Auke Bay, 17’ 02”. 5, Raiden Smith, Riverbend, 16’ 08”. 6, Jacqueline Smith-Russell, Riverbend, 16’ 07”
1, Erik Thompson, Auke Bay, 98’ 03”. 2, Brayden Falls, Auke Bay, 93’ 01”. 3, Cerys Hudson, Riverbend, 70’ 06”. 4, Skylar Oliva, Glacier Valley, 70’ 02”. 5, Chase Mesdag, Riverbend, 66’ 02”. 6, Oliver Abel, Auke Bay, 55’ 09”.
1, Maxie Lehauli, Mendenhall River. 2, Jaiden Miller, Mendenhall River. 3, Adrianna Johnson, Mendenhall River. 4, Asher Fink Riverbend. 5, Savannaah Weston, Riverbend. 6, Keziaa Verebasaga, Glacier Valley.
Jr. NYO Record Book
One-foot high kick: Lynniah Sagrado, Riverbend, 72 inches (2017)
Two-foot high kick: Lynniah Sagrado, Riverbend, 49 inches (2017)
Alaska high kick: Corbin Mitchell, Auke Bay 52 inches (2009)
Scissor broad jump: Paul King, Riverbend, 23 feet, 1 inch (2017)
Seal Hop: Erik Thompson, Auke Bay 98 feet, 3 inches (2018)