Kyle Worl, 27, was fresh off his first coaching stint at the statewide Native Youth Olympics when he moved to Juneau one year ago.
He said it was difficult to leave behind Team Anchorage, his former team, not knowing if he could start an NYO team in his new home from scratch.
Those doubts were put to rest once and for all last week at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, the site of this year’s NYO Games, where Team Juneau joined the fray with 50 other teams. The Games have been going on since 1971 but Juneau hasn’t fielded a team in close to three decades.
“I told the students they literally made a dream of mine come true to be able to bring a team to state,” Worl said. “It was really hard for me to leave Anchorage and leave my team and my athletes behind unsure if I would be coaching another team at state any time soon.”
The dream sweetened as the Games awarded Worl with the 2018 Healthy Coach Award, which considers qualities such as leadership, traditional values and athleticism.
Ten teenagers make up Team Juneau, one of approximately 50 teams to compete in this year’s Games.
The boys team members featured students from all three Juneau high schools.
Juneau-Douglas High School’s Arthur McVey, Bryan Johnson and Derrick Roberts and Thunder Mountain’s Joe Dundore, Matthew Quinto and Erick Whisenant made up two-thirds of the team. Josh Sheakley represented Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School while Kalila Arreola, Trinity Jackson and Skyler Tuckwood represented Dzanitik’i Heeni Middle School.
Roberts was the only medal winner in the group, coming in third place in the Eskimo Stick Pull. The event — akin to a seated tug of war using a 20 inch-long wooden pole — attracted around 70 contestants.
The former football noseguard won all six of his matches in the preliminary round but lost two out of three to Mt. Edgecumbe’s Haley Osborne in the finals. Roberts said it was the first time he’d ever lost.
“I have more respect for (Osborne) because I’ve never been beaten before,” Roberts said of Osborne. “I wasn’t upset at all, it was just surprising a little bit.”
Whisenant just missed the cut for the final round in the two-foot high kick. His kick of 88 inches in the 2018 Traditional Games would’ve put him in third place in the state games.
“He has the jumps, he just doesn’t have the accuracy all the time,” Worl said.
There’s an emphasis on teamwork at the Games, Worl said, which mirrors Alaska Native culture. There may be 50 other teams in the competition, but at the end of the day, they are all there to bring out the best in each other, he said.
“A lot of the athletes and a lot of other coaches from other teams were approaching my athletes, Team Juneau athletes, and helping them out,” Worl said. “So that was really nice to see and I think the students really appreciated strangers, people from other teams, coaches from other teams, helping them out. It made them really feel welcomed and part of this culture of the Games.”
Roberts, Whisenant, Johnson, Dundore and Sheakley are all seniors, meaning this was their final year to compete in the NYO Games. These students already have their eyes trained on the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, which will be held this summer in Fairbanks.
“The people that were on my team are definitely some of my closest friends now,” Roberts said.
Healthy Coach Award: Kyle Worl, Juneau
Team Sportsmanship Award: Unalaska
Individual Sportsmanship Award: Allie Ivanoff (Unalakleet); Arctic Ivanoff (Unalakleet)
Highest-scoring athletes: Allie Ivanoff; Arctic Ivanoff
Team results: 1) Lower Kuskokwim School District; 2) Unalaska; 3) Mat-Su; 4) Bering Straights School District; 5) Dillingham.