The Kenaitze Indian Tribe IRA Native Youth Olympic team returned home this week after competing at the state contest in Anchorage on April 26 and 27.
"They did excellent," said coach Amber Glenzel. "They all exceeded their personal best."
Anyone who spends anytime around the Kenaitze NYO team quickly realizes they embody what to many others is just a cliche with, "there's no I' in teamwork."
The judges saw the emphasis the kids placed on teamwork and presented them with the prestigious Team Sportsmanship Award.
The award was a first for the Kenaitze team, which for the last five years has gone to the Kodiak Island team.
"It was wonderful," said coach Emilia Taylor. "The kids were up and in the gym early and the last ones to leave. They pulled together and were united as a team. They cheered for each other and the other teams."
Taylor also had a vested interest in NYO, since two of her children are on the team. She said she cried tears of joy when during the competition her children excelled beyond the personal goals they had set for themselves.
"It's been a super year all around," said Taylor. "I hope to be involved with the team next year, but if not I'll follow my kids anywhere."
Her daughter Lenora John not only kicked high, but "kicked butt" in the two foot high kick event. She took ninth place in the contest.
"I was so nervous at first, but I calmed down after the first event," said John. "I did much better than I thought I would. I kicked five inches higher than in practice or during the mini competition."
She attributed her success to all the encouragement she got from her teammates.
Some of the NYO athletes who returned home will take it easy until the next season begins, but not team member T.J. Olick.
Olick placed second in the seal hop event with a knuckle breaking 119-foot 8-inch hop, and took eighth in the Alaskan high kick. He intends to compete in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics held in Fairbanks in July.
He's rigid with self-discipline and already has been busy doing hundreds of pushups and situps to prepare. He also set up his own kick stand at home to train.
"I did good in the seal hop, but I know I can do better," Olick said.
The state competition wasn't all work. It allowed the athletes to have free time, and many of the kids said they enjoyed seeing old friends and classmates from around the state.
The last night of the event a teen dance was held, which was said to be very popular.
Also, Native American actor Roger Willie, who starred in the film "Wind Talkers," attended the event. He socialized with the kids and passed out autographs.
Many members of the Kenaitze NYO team also are members of the Kenaitze Chuda Kuya drum group, and drummed with Willie during the competition.
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