Ernesto Sanchez and Michelle Babb of Team Alberta North trade flags with Ilannguaq Petrussen of Team Greenland in the parking lot of the Soldotna Sports Center before the closing ceremony of the Arctic Winter Games. For the last week, athletes have shared the competitive spirit and their culture in a unique biannual circumpolar event.
Photos by M. Scott Moon
Singing, dancing and last-minute pin trading were all on the agenda for the closing ceremonies of the Arctic Winter Games in the Soldotna Sports Center on Saturday night.
A festive spirit was apparent before the event officially began. Pin-traders who had spent the week gathering the goods took the moments before the ceremonies as a chance to grab a few more.
Soldotna’s Remy Spring, a home-schooled high school student, collected a few pins during a summer trip to Germany in anticipation of the Games, but became fully immersed in “the 21st sport” as the week progressed. A bearded man from Yamal swapped a Games pin for one with a Canadian flag on it about five minutes before the ceremonies. Spring gladly added it to his 100-plus collection.
“I think I’m hooked,” Spring said. “Any time there is pin-trading going on, I’ll be doing it now.”
Rascal the raven takes flight in the hands of dancers at the conclusion of a performance during Saturdays ceremony.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Trading pins made memories for collectors throughout the week, but that wasn’t the only trading going on. A few hours before the ceremonies, gymnastics chair Melissa Daugherty traded her volunteer jacket for a Team Yukon hooded sweatshirt.
“Everyone’s gonna have one of those volunteer jerseys I’ll have a unique one,” Daugherty said.
Soldotna High School sophomore Chris Netschert took it a step further and traded his volunteer jersey for a gray and red Team Yukon winter coat.
“He didn’t like it, so I got it,” Netschert said of the swap with a Canadian.
At 7 p.m., trading slowed, seats were taken and the ceremonies began. The athletes paraded onto the ice to the beat of the North Road Pounders drum group in random order, signifying the unity athletes feel and the friendships they made after a week of competition.
It appeared that territorial boundaries had indeed broken down. Some athletes in Team Alaska jackets, for example, pounded along to the beat of the drummers with Team Northwest Territories thunder sticks as teammates in front of them waved small Team Nunavut flags.
Once the athletes filled the ice rink and emcee Dan Gensel made a formal welcome, the North Road Pounders and Fresh Trash a group of drummers using aluminum trash cans as rhythm instruments took turns churning out beats for a 10-minute dance performance that ended with dancers hoisting Games mascot Rascal the raven, as confetti and streamers burst across the sports center.
One of the most anticipated events of the evening came with the awarding of the Hodgson Trophy, earned at each Games by the contingent that demonstrates the best understanding of fair play through the week.
The crowd erupted with hoots, whistles and thunderous applause when International Committee President Gerry Thicke opened up an envelope and said, “Team Alaska!”
Alaska Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, Host Society President Dale Bagley and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor John Williams all took a turn to thank the athletes, volunteers and Games staff members for their work.
Williams directed one comment directly at the athletes:
“(This week) you have been a part of the larger brotherhood of the communities of the North,” he said.
Echoing that unity sentiment was the final performance of the ceremonies, a song from Bunny Swan entitled “We Are One.” Swan sang the song to the beat of her own drum, encircled by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Jabila’ina dancers.
Thicke returned to the stage for one final note before officially declaring the Games closed.
“Now’s the sad part, it’s time to say goodbye,” he said. “I hope you all cherish the memories you have made.”
With that, and the extinguishing of the cauldron on the opposite side of the rink, the athletes began to exit, team by team, back to their respective Northern communities.
Be it in the form of pins, sweatshirts or just memories, it seemed certain the athletes will each take part of the Kenai Peninsula back with them.
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