Trinity Jackson, 13, participates in the wrist carry as judge Elizabeth Rexford watches at the Native Youth Olympics 2018 Traditional Games at the University of Alaska Southeast Recreational Center in March 2018. Tuckwood won the event for middle school students. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Trinity Jackson, 13, participates in the wrist carry as judge Elizabeth Rexford watches at the Native Youth Olympics 2018 Traditional Games at the University of Alaska Southeast Recreational Center in March 2018. Tuckwood won the event for middle school students. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Juneau hosts 2020 Traditional Games this weekend

More than 125 athletes will participate in the games

More than 125 athletes from more than 18 locations will come together at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé to compete in the 2020 Traditional Games this Saturday.

“It’s cool to see the growth and the momentum of the sport throughout the southeast,” said Kyle Worl, the organizer of the event and a prime mover in the push increase the popularity of the traditional games and the Native Youth Olympics in Southeast Alaska.

[Juneau local recognized for Herculean effort bringing back traditional sports]

The games are based on hunting and survival skills that allowed the indigenous people of Alaska to thrive in their homeland for thousands of years, according to partner organization Sealaska Heritage Institute, a nonprofit that promotes and protects Alaska Native culture.

Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File                                Orion Denny, 16, rejoices in winning the high school adult one-foot high kick competition at the Native Youth Olympics 2018 Traditional Games at the University of Alaska Southeast Recreational Center in March 2018.

Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File Orion Denny, 16, rejoices in winning the high school adult one-foot high kick competition at the Native Youth Olympics 2018 Traditional Games at the University of Alaska Southeast Recreational Center in March 2018.

Local teams will come from all local high schools and middle schools. Teams from Nome, Bethel, Whitehorse, Ketchikan, Metlakatla, Hoonah, Hydaberg, Craig and Lower Kuskokwim will travel to Juneau to compete, as well as individuals from Anchorage, Fairbanks and Barrow. Three college teams will also be present and competing: University of Alaska Southeast, Alaska Pacific University and Northern Arizona University.

“I think that’s really exciting that our culture can be shared all the way to Arizona,” Worl said.

The team was founded by a Fairbanks resident who brought the sport to the school and became a coach, Worl said.

Worl has been part of a movement to revitalize the NYO and traditional games, particularly in the Southeast and at a college level, so that kids who go to school can continue to play before becoming coaches in their own communities, forming a self-sustaining reaction.

“Because it’s kind of a reintroduced sport for the Southeast or a new sport for most people, recruitment is a year-round activity,” Worl said.”Throughout the year, I’m continually recruiting and trying to build interest in the sport.”

Part of his plan for the future is to deconflict the scheduling of the event with other major sports in the Southeast, particularly basketball, so that more people will have a chance to participate.

“Next year we’re trying to move our event back into April so we’re not overlapping with basketball season,” Worl said. “That’s one of the challenges we’ve noticed is that we overlap with basketball season. We’re trying to find our balance or find our way.”

The events will begin at JDHS at roughly 9 a.m. on Saturday with an opening ceremony. Worl said that there will be a parade of athletes and speakers from the sponsoring organizations, which include the Sealaska Corporation and the University of Alaska Southeast. Other partner organizations for the Traditional Games include the Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

Walk-ons are also welcome to participate in the games for free, Worl said.

“Anyone can show up and participate. Just learning through the experience. You don’t have to be experienced at all,” Worl said. “If you go onto the floor, people are going to teach you, and coach you and give you advice. That’s the spirit of the games.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

Know and go

What: The 2020 Traditional Games

When: March 7-8, beginning at 9 a.m. each day.

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, 1639 Glacier Ave. Admission and participation is free with registration.

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