Hundreds of young athletes from around the state are in Chugiak this weekend for the Junior Native Youth Olympics.

The first event up on Friday: The Alaska High Kick.

“You use one foot and go in kind of a crab position,” explained Deshawn Campbell, a fifth grader at Machetanz Elementary. “Hold one foot, then kick with the other foot, kick up and kick the ball.”

Mat-Su NYO Coordinator Jared Barett said the competition keeps growing every year. The 2016 games will have more than 800 participants.

“It’s exciting,” Barrett said. “And to see their faces and to see the little guys on the podium holding each other’s arms up, it’s incredible,”

The students, grades first through sixth, will compete in 10 Native sports over three days, like the arm pull, two-foot high kick and wrist carry.

“It’s about different skills that were needed for survival, hunting or fishing,” said organizer Kelly Hurd. “Those important skills translated into Native games. They’d sharpen their skills during the winter months to prepare to carry out a hunting or fishing expedition.”

Kids said once you get the hang of the Alaska High Kick it’s pretty easy. It’s performing in front of a crowd that’s the hard part, according to the participants.

“The pressure, there’s a lot of people watching,” said Tommy Cronin, a sixth grader from Seward.

The games aren’t just about winning, they’re about trying your best and helping others do their best too.

“It’s really a unique athletic competition for that reason in itself,” Hurd said. “It’s about striving for your personal best, working together as a team.”

The competition wraps up Sunday, Feb. 21 with the Seal Hop at 2:30 p.m.

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