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Tuluksak students compete in the Native Youth Olympics Bethel Invitational despite challenges faced in their community

Students and teachers from Tuluksak flew into Bethel for the NYO invitational held at the Bethel Regional High School on March 31, 2023.
Gabby Salgado
Students and teachers from Tuluksak flew into Bethel for the NYO invitational held at the Bethel Regional High School on March 31, 2023.

Tuluksak has faced several challenges in the past few years, including a fire that wiped out the washeteria in January 2021 and the recent water line break from the water plant. Those challenges didn’t stop the village’s Native Youth Olympics (NYO) team from traveling to Bethel and competing. The two-day invitational meet was held on March 31 and April 1.

The survival of the community and spirit of preserving the culture is the purpose of NYO. Ty Shoemaker teaches Tuluksak students from grades eight to 12. He is also one of two NYO coaches.

“NYO in and of itself is a very important sport that our community loves to gather for and participate in watching. But I would say just in general, sports, like basketball, volleyball, they all just play a huge role in bringing the community together. So it's a huge deal in the community for our sports, and they love seeing our students participate,” Ty said.

Emma Shoemaker, who also teaches grades eight through 12, is the second coach.

“We brought six student athletes. We have more than that who are part of the team, but six were able to travel,” Emma said.

KYUK has been covering the Tuluksak water situation since the community’s school first lost access to running water on Feb 9. Ty said that loss has impacted everyone and everything, especially youth sports.

“We have been unable to host any of our sporting events since the water main broke, which consequently meant our basketball team was not able to host the game which we are looking forward to. It also meant that for NYO we aren't able to have hosted a meet at Tuluksak,” Ty said.

It is a big loss. These events bring the community to the school because they gather to show support and appreciation for their student athletes as well as for other villages.

“So it's a really big bummer that because of the water we weren't able to bring our community together in something that they look forward to year after year,” said Emma.

The inconsistent water access has taken a toll on student education and Emma said that it’s a stressor for teachers too.

“You know, students don't always know, like, are we going to be having a full day? Are we going to be having a half day? And sometimes that's just been difficult to keep that consistency. And with families, they don't always know, like, are we sending our student first full day and then it also has meant just extreme flexibility on the teachers part,” Emma said.

If the school does not have a full tank of water, then the school day is modified and shortened.

“It just means that you have to fit more planning, squeeze more planning into an already kind of very hectic spring semester with testing,” Emma added.

Ty said that it has been difficult to keep students motivated and focused. “The students really look forward to the sporting events, like, it's one of the things that they love to do after school. And so it's a great incentive for them to, you know, stay in school to do well in their classes to come to school on a consistent basis.”

Ty said that the water situation has hurt the students’ morale and mental health.

“We just have seen that the morale has dropped, the motivation to come everyday to participate has also dropped more so than usual. And then, as you know, as students they need that consistency in life. And school is one of those, was one of those tools that can provide that for them,” Ty noted.

Emma said that the student athletes are still eager to compete. “NYO is a real, like, source of pride. And I think also you just, there's lots of cultural values that go with it. So I think it's there, definitely, we're missing out that we're not able to host that and that our whole community can't take part of that. I think that our community is missing out on a lot. When I think about the families and the Elders too, and just what joy it brings to gather the school, and our school has not been a gathering place this year.”

For some of the students, it was their first NYO meet.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.