Ivanoffs excel at BSSD NYO tournament
St. Michael is a small village with a big history. From its origin as a Native Alaskan settlement to its Russian fort and trading post history and the subsequent explosion as a transit point for the Nome and Yukon gold rushes, it has seen a lot of excitement. This weekend’s 33rd Annual Bering Strait School District Native Youth Olympic tournament added to that legacy with never before seen performances and tension-oozing competition.
The three-day event brings more than 100 of BSSD’s best athletes together for a final event before the school year ends. It is those athletes that persevere past the rigors of all the other athletic and academic seasons to train deep into the spring for the ten events of the competition. It is an event that has something for everyone, no matter one’s size or age. The big, strong kids loom large in the strength events while the smaller stature kids normally hold up better in events like wrist carry and seal hop. Regardless, the cooperative competition is a special thing, unlike any you’ll see in other sporting events.
Thursday opened with the slippery Indian Stick Pull and, to the excitement of the St. Michael Island audience, local athletes grabbed both titles. Celeste Katcheak from Stebbins and Patrick Agibinik from St. Michael took top honors. The evening closed with the singing, drumming, and dancing of the St. Lawrence Island athletes led by Edwin Noongwook.
Friday’s games started early and went late with seven different events. Arctic Ivanoff of Unalakleet claimed his first gold medal in the Alaskan High Kick, narrowly defeating the defending champion Lucas Aningayou of Gambell.
Versatile Shea Matthias of Stebbins held off Allie Ivanoff of Unalakleet for the girls’ title. Allie bounced back fast with a new BSSD record in the Scissor Broad Jump, besting a 24-year old record previously held by Myra Slwooko. She continued with a win in the Kneel Jump.
Elim’s Jacob Brouillette won his first title in the boy’s Kneel Jump.
Allie Ivanoff came back in the afternoon with a brilliant performance in the girls’ Two-Foot High Kick, setting another BSSD record and adding to her gold medals. In the boys Two-Foot High Kick Arctic Ivanoff and Miah Iyatunguk revisited their rivalry in a compelling kicking contest that was finally won by Iyatunguk.
The evening session opened with the event that fuses physical and mental toughness, the wrist carry. Adding the element of having strong, enduring carriers, the wrist carry is visually exciting and a real crowd pleaser. There were many outstanding efforts. John Boy Kulowiyi of Savoonga defended his 2017 title and Shea Matthias showed her athleticism with a gold medal performance.
The One-Foot High Kick is a highlight with “high” being the operative word. Athletes risk injury as they leap to kick a small leather ball far above their heads and get their feet back down to land safely. Allie Ivanoff completed her remarkable day with a performance that stunned the audience and herself as well. After equaling a 22-year old record set by Laureli Ivanoff, she shattered the record that stood at 83 inches to an unbelievable 90 inches. With four wins and three records it was a day rarely, if ever, seen in the many years of the tournament.
Iyatunguk and Ivanoff got the crowd fired up again with a furious duel high above the floor. While they didn’t meet the district record they did get into rare air as Iyatunguk repeated his earlier win, kicking 105 inches to punch his ticket for the State tournament.
Saturday is traditionally scheduled for Eskimo Stick Pull and the Seal Hop, which are a contrast of styles. Both pulling brackets were stacked with contenders and the early results were evidence that it would be hard to predict a winner. The girls had two returning champions, Rachel Moore of Shaktoolik and Myra Seppilu of Savoonga, but it was young eighth grader Tamara Oblowaluk of Teller who made people sit up and take notice as she defeated both of them on her way to the championship match. It’s a double elimination event, though, and Seppilu worked her way back to the final match and defeated Oblowaluk twice to regain her title.
The same thing happened on the boys’ side. Another young athlete showed strength as eighth grader Derek Seppilu Jr. of Savoonga came back from an early loss to defeat many of the favorites and face Duncan Ivanoff of Unalakleet in the final. Seppilu won the first match and pushed it to the second and deciding match. After splitting the first two pulls Ivanoff had to withdraw due to a foot injury, giving Seppilu the championship.
The final, and perhaps toughest, event tests even the strongest athletes as they emulate a seal hopping on the ice. The tournament ended as it started with fans cheering the hometown heroes. Celeste Katcheak won gold in the Seal Hop and defending champion Alvin Washington of St. Michael came close to a district record with his win.
Unalakleet’s Arctic and Allie Ivanoff were honored with the “Most Outstanding Athlete” titles, marking the third time for Arctic to be bestowed with the title. Unalakleet also took the team title with Stebbins and Gambell coming in second and third, respectively. The host St. Michael team was selected for the team Sportsmanship winner.