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Native Youth Olympics kick off winter festivities

Fun and Games on the peninsula

Posted: Monday, January 22, 2007


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  Judge Amanda Attla ensures both competitors' hands are even before starting an Indian stick pull match. Photo by Joseph Robertia

Chelsea Morrow of Anchorage regulates her breathing during the Indian stick pull event at the Native Youth Olympics at Kenai Middle School on Saturday. The game were the opening event for the 31st annual Peninsula Winter Games.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Judge Amanda Attla explained the rules.

“Stand up straight, lock those elbows, free hands on your hips, look straight ahead and no jerking. Do both of you understand?” she asked.

The two contenders nodded in agreement.

“All right then,” Attla continued. “Ready, pull!”

With that the contest began to cheers from the bleachers.

“Hold on! You can do it! Don’t give up!” shouted teammates and coaches.

As time ticked on and the two pulled, their faces turned red and their bodies began to tremble, but they did not yield.

Finally one of the two contenders prevailed, showing she had heart, strength and stamina tucked away underneath a T- shirt that read, “I’m so cute I must be Yupik.”

“This is one of my favorite events,” said Chelsea Morrow, the winner of the match.

Morrow was down from Anchorage serving as a member of the Mountain View Eagles team competing in the Native Youth Olympics at Kenai Middle School on Saturday. The games were the opening event for the weeklong 31st annual Peninsula Winter Games.

Morrow’s event was called the Indian stick pull — a tug of war between two opponents facing away from each other, each trying to hold on to a greased foot-long stick. It was one of 10 events total.

“It’s more challenging than the Eskimo stick pull,” said Amber Glenzel, NYO coordinator, in regard to another tug-of-war event between two opponents who sit on the floor across from each other, their legs extended and their hands gripping a rounded wooden stick about a yard long.

“The Eskimo stick pull is about brute strength, but the Indian stick pull is much more about gripping strength,” she said.

It was obvious that Morrow — at 11 years old and only weighing 75 pounds at the most — had an abundance of the latter. Glenzel said this is not uncommon for NYO competitors.

“Size doesn’t matter. It’s determination that matters. That’s why we have juniors and seniors competing together,” she said.


Judge Amanda Attla ensures both competitors' hands are even before starting an Indian stick pull match.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Morrow said she was determined, but not to beat her opponent. Rather, she liked challenging herself, she said.

“I like it because it is so challenging to hold onto it, just like holding onto a fish’s tail when you grab it out of the net,” she said, bringing light to the origin and purpose of the slippery sport.

Michael Bernard, a coach for the Kenaitze team, said ancestry is an important aspect of NYO.

“For a lot of these kids, this is part of their cultural heritage, and they love it. They’re hungry for it,” he said.

Glenzel said that more than 40 kids took part in the NYO activities, from near and far.

“There’s kids here from Kenai, Soldotna, Ninilchik, Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla — all over,” she said.

In addition to competing, Glenzel added this past weekend’s event was a good way for the kids to make friends, earn medals and prepare for this coming weekend’s Native games competition in Anchorage.

The Native Youth Olympics were only the first of numerous activities and competitions that take place during the Peninsula Winter Games. For a schedule of events, visit

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