Teams from as far in-state as Nome, as well as from Canada and the Lower 48, came to Juneau last week to compete in the 2022 Traditional Games.
The games are a series of different events from traditional Alaska Native competitions.
“We had great turnout. We had over 150 athletes coming from over 20 communities across Alaska and a few places outside of Alaska,” said coach and organizer Kyle Worl. “That was really exciting to me to see it reaching outside Alaska.”
The last time the games were held in person was in 2020, days before major lockdowns swept the state to stave off the early stages of the pandemic. This year’s event was the same size as the 2020 event, the largest the games in Juneau have ever been, Worl said.
“At the 2020 event we felt like we had been building momentum each year,” Worl said.
For some, Worl said, the Traditional Games were the last major event they attended in Juneau before the pandemic, and the the first major event as the pandemic recedes, bookending the worst of the virus.
“The games this weekend represented a lot for me in the growth of the sport. And coming out of the pandemic as well. We haven’t been able to host a big event like this for two years,” Worl said. “A lot of my friends were like, that was the last big event I attended in Juneau in 2020.”
Having the games back in person really made the experience, Worl said. Across
“I think everyone was so grateful to experience the games again. We’ve been doing a lot through the pandemic but it hasn’t been the same,” Worl said. “Nothing really beats in person, that face to face with people, talking to them, the camaraderie between athletes. I’m very happy with how it went. A lot of teams said they want to return next year.”
There were a lot of new teams, Worl said, especially from Southeast Alaska, where Worl said his mission is to promote the games and get more teams from communities that haven’t participated before.
“One of our big missions here is to promote the games here in the Southeast — Petersburg, Skagway and Haines were all new teams to the Traditional Games,” Worl said. “We want to see a team from every community in Southeast Alaska.”
Worl said he’d also like to see more college teams come to compete. University of Alaska Southeast’s team competed this weekend; Alaska Pacific University and Northern Arizona University have competed in the past, Worl said.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can accommodate a larger event. It was logistically hard to organize with 150 athletes in middle … maybe school high school adult divisions doing 11 different games,” Worl said. “Our Southeast teams, our athletes are gaining experience. For a while we were really disadvantaged because we were a first year team going up against teams that had decades of experience.”
Athletes set 19 records for the games here in Juneau over the course of the games, with Chickaloon winning for overall large team and Whitehorse winning the overall small team.
“(Thunder Mountain High School senior) Ezra Elisoff took all-around athlete for high school male,” Worl said. “He also took the Sportsmanship Award. He set a new record for our event for the Alaskan high kick at 81 inches.”
Complete scoring is available at traditionalgames.sealaskaheritage.org. The next games will be in 2023, Worl said, and hopefully hosted at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.