NYO Bethel Invitational draws over 140 competitors
The Bethel Native Youth Olympics (NYO) Invitational was held at Bethel Regional High School on March 31 and April 1, 2023.
Around 140 student athletes representing the Yupiit School District and the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) filled the high school gymnasium. Over the weekend they competed in 10 events.
Event organizer Tommy Bayayok has been the head coach for Bethel's high school NYO team for the past nine years.
“Usually we hold our invitational every year, right before the district meet, which rotates with LKSD villages,” said Bayayok.
Most of the events happened on Friday, March 31. That’s when students competed in the kneel jump, wrist carry, two-foot high kick, scissors broad jump, alaskan high kick, one-foot high kick, one arm reach, and Eskimo stick pull. Then on Saturday, April 1, they competed in the seal hop and Indian stick pull. Each event is designed to test hunting and survival skills, increase strength, and maintain endurance, agility, and the balance of mind and body.
Take the one-foot high kick, for example. Bayayok said that it’s a signal. “The history behind the one foot is if a hunting group is out and they get big game, like a whale or something, and they would need lots of help. And a lot of the northern part of Alaska is flat, so if you see someone do a one-foot in the distance that usually means they need help and had a successful hunt.”
More than 15 teams were invited to compete at Bethel’s invitational, but some teams were unable to attend. “Originally, we’re supposed to have over 170 [students], but two sites had to cancel due to weather out on the coast. So I’m guessing we’re in the range of 140 to 150 student athletes,” Bayayok explained.
The competitors were fourth-graders all the way up to high school students.
“We usually have two groups. There’s a [junior varsity], which is the fourth through eighth grade. And then we have a varsity level, which is seventh through 12th grade, and those are the usually the good athletes that try to earn a spot to the state team. And junior high, seventh and eighth, they’re either in [junior varsity] or varsity; they can switch back and forth,” Bayayok noted.
Top teams received handcrafted wooden plaques along with the top male and female athletes. Ribbons were handed out usually for those placing in first through fifth.
Kwigillingok took the first place prize in the junior varsity group. Its athletes also took both top athlete awards with Christopher Lewis winning top male athlete and Bessie David as the top female athlete. Tuntutuliak's team came in second and Akiuk third.
At the varsity level, Bethel Regional High School dominated with a commanding 35 point lead. Its athletes also took both top athlete awards with Dalyn Nelson as the top varsity male athlete and Jordan Klejka as the top female athlete. Chefornak’s team came in second place and Kipnuk in third. But it was Oscarville which received the coveted Top Sportsmanship Award.
Bayayok explaind why it holds such value. “The only thing I can really add is just sportsmanship by all the coaches and teams, where in basketball you’re not going to be helping out another team. Whereas in NYO, I can be giving pointers to a Kwigillingok kid, that Kipnuk coach can be giving points to another village site. It works really good sportsmanship.”
The district meet will be held in Nightmute in a couple of weeks. That competition is where LKSD will determine who will be on the team to travel and compete in the statewide competition.