A total of 18 competitors from the Kenai Peninsula tuned up for the statewide Native Youth Olympics, which will be held from April 26 to 28 in Anchorage, by attending a meet at the Palmer Job Corps Center on March 24 and 25.
The Kenaitze Indian Tribe Native Youth Olympics team, which also works with the Salamatof Tribal Council, sent nine boys and five girls, while the Ninilchik Tribal Council sent three boys and a girl.
Michael Bernard, the coach of the Kenaitze squad, said the competition, which had about 120 athletes, is one of the three main competitions for his team. In addition to the statewide Native Youth Olympics, Kenaitze also does the Peninsula Winter Games.
Bernard said his team practices five hours a week, but he said the meets are more about camaraderie than they are competition.
“We don’t have that many opportunities to compete and show our stuff, so we were looking forward to the meet,” Bernard said. “We also look forward to going up there and being with friends, family and other kids we haven’t seen in awhile.”
Ninilchik coach Randy Harvey also said camaraderie is a major part of the meet. At the Job Corps meet, Harvey’s son, Keith Harvey, made a new friend from Wasilla. The two became such good friends that Randy is driving Keith to the Valley this weekend to watch the friend in a all-Valley competition.
The friendship also does not stop when the competition starts. NYO events are notorious for competitors helping fellow competitors out, even if it means losing a shot at first place.
“I take pictures, and I’m able to give kids immediate feedback on kicks,” Randy Harvey said. “That’s something I offer to all the kids, not just the ones on my team.”
Added Bernard: “That’s what separates us from basketball, football and wrestling. You don’t go to basketball or wrestling and hear somebody say, ‘If you grab me like this, you can take me.’”
The Kenaitze athlete having the most success at the competitions was David Japhet, who placed in every event in which he competed, except for the One Foot High Kick. Japhet was fourth in the Indian Stick Pull, second in the Kneel Jump, third in the Alaska High Kick, first in the Toe Kick, second in the Two Foot High Kick and third in the One Arm Reach.
Also for Kenaitze, Ray Batt III was second in the Wrist Carry, Matt Leach was third in the Eskimo Stick Pull and Lara Olsen was first in the Eskimo Stick Pull.
For Ninilchik, Brianna Goins was third in the Two Foot High Kick, second in the One Arm Reach, third in the One Foot High Kick and first in the Alaska High Kick.
Bernard said that Job Corps coach Greg Mann said there have been four new NYO teams created in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys alone recently. Bernard said he would like to see participation start increasing on the peninsula, as well.
“There’s got to be kids in the towns and villages that know the games and are willing to participate,” Bernard said. “There’s got to be someone there to coach them. That’s what’s holding it back, those who know how to organize a team.”
Bernard, who has been the Kenaitze coach for three years, said he is willing to share his knowledge with others. He also said that his team, which is required to maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or above, is not restricted to Native athletes.
“There’s good things that NYO stands for and I’d like to see those things fostered more -- sportsmanship, family and teamwork,” Bernard said.
Added Harvey: “No matter what we do, when we go to an event we all come out winners.”
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