Homer hosts Kachemak Bay Traditional Games

The Kachemak Bay Traditional Games event held at Homer High School on Feb. 17 and 18 saw more than 200 athletes compete. The event is part of the larger Alaska Native Youth Olympics that started in Anchorage in 1971.

Homer’s invitational event brought 17 teams from across the Southcentral region, including Port Graham and Nanwalek, as well as from most other communities across the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. There were also teams from the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Southeast. This is the sixth year the Traditional Games have been held in Homer.

Homer’s team, the Homer Halibuts, is organized by Megan and Mark Gordon, who were involved in the statewide event before organizing the local team. The local team has youth as young as kindergarten participating but the coaches and open division range to adult ages.

Events in the games included the kneel jump, the Inuit stick pull, Alaskan high kick, wrist carry, toe kick, two-foot high kick, one-hand reach and the seal hop.

According to Mark Gordon, they’re all traditional events that help with subsistence lifestyle and culture. “The foot high kick was a game that was used for communications. The one-foot meant “we need help” and the two-foot mean ‘keep hunting’.

“This was a game from the northern part of the state where there are no trees and you could see kick from quite long way away where they were hunting on the ice,” Gordon said.

Gordon initially got involved as a volunteering official at state events and later when his children expressed interest in competing the family started the local team with other youth who were home-schooling in Homer. The Kenaitze tribe helped find additional people in the community to show some demonstrations and get the team. There are 16 athletes on the Homer team this year and they travel to events all over the state.

The lead official for the tournament was Nicole Johnson. Originally from Nome, she now lives in Anchorage and participates in coordinating and officiating the statewide tournaments.

Johnson competed in her first Alaska Native Youth Olympics in 1982, continued to compete throughout high school and beyond. Johnson was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.

The statewide Junior Native Olympic Games took place in Anchorage at the Seawolf Sports Complex on the UAA campus Feb. 23-25. Johnson that there were 800 athletes from first through sixth grade registered for the junior event.

The majority of the teams were from the Anchorage and Mat-Su region but there were about 20 rural teams registered to attend from Cordova, Bethel, Barrow and other communities in the Northwest Arctic. Homer’s Ryder Chase took second place in the Alaskan high kick with a 60-inch kick and fourth place in the one-foot high kick.

Axel Johnson and Asher Stephens, both in fifth grade, set their own personal records at the event in Anchorage.

The senior games are scheduled to take place in April.