At Home with NYO Games
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At Home with NYO Games

At Home with NYO Games

Courtney Sullivan celebrates twenty years of volunteering at traditional games

Twenty years ago, Courtney Sullivan found herself at a backyard barbeque at Brian Walker’s house. She’d been invited by NYO Games legend Ben Snowball, who had become her mentor when she started working at Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC). Little did Courtney know, that barbeque would change her life.

This year, at the closing ceremony of NYO Senior Games, Courtney celebrated twenty years of volunteering for the Games.

“Brian Walker hosted this barbecue at his house and invited all his pals he had competed with or worked with at WEIO [World Eskimo Indian Olympics],” Courtney recalled. “That’s when I met [NYO Head Official] Nicole Johnson. That’s when I met Carol [Hull]. That’s when I met Sam Strange. I met folks that were kind of part of our original officials team that January of 2004.”

At that time, Courtney was working for CITC’s youth department, running seasonal camps and programs. She “absorbed” NYO Games as part of her responsibilities, becoming the coordinator of the games in 2004. Under the mentorship of Ben Snowball and Louise Leonard, another longtime NYO volunteer, Courtney quickly assumed responsibility for raising awareness around NYO and encouraging schools to get involved in traditional games.

Eighty-nine young athletes had participated in Junior NYO Games 2003, the year before Courtney started. At Junior NYO 2004, 298 athletes registered to participate.

“It was such a fun surprise—but we had triple numbers, but not triple the officials or scorekeepers or equipment! Everyone was so gracious, though,” Courtney recalled.

After several years as NYO coordinator, she transitioned to other positions. This year, she is serving as the head scorekeeper.

Since that first year, she’s watched the Games continue to grow. In two decades, teams have added preliminary competitions in the run-up to the annual NYO Senior Games; Courtney helped teach coaching clinics; she collaborated with Nicole and others to develop the NYO Handbook; and she recruited countless others to get involved. She even recollected the time before yearly volunteer Jerome Liang helped put together the athlete database—when she and other officials used to literally cut and paste names to make the competition brackets.

She has also seen athletes grow up and become officials, volunteers, and judges themselves.

“I’m just so proud of the legacy. Folks come and go—work, travel, babies—but they stay part of the NYO family,” she said.

She pointed to Juneau Coach Kyle Worl, whom she met in middle school; now, she said, “He’s taking Juneau by storm, getting Southeast games back together, traveling the world, getting Indigenous games in the media. It’s just exciting to see.”

For Courtney Sullivan, who celebrated 20 years of volunteering at NYO Games 2024, NYO is “one big family.”

She shouted out athletes who competed last year—Colton Paul, Leila Kell, and Lydia Alverts (who won a 2023 NYO Scholarship)—and who are now being mentored as new officials. “They’re just so eager to learn. They’re looking for year-round opportunities and ways to continue—like Lydia talking about how UAA started an Indigenous games club [during her keynote address to the athletes to kick off the 2024 Games].”

For Courtney, who now lives in Seattle, coming back to Anchorage for NYO Games each year feels like coming home—and the young people who started as athletes and continue as officials are just part of the “NYO family” who keep the Games going, she said.

“Through my different career positions, I’ve done a lot of youth and young adult mentorship and job training and a lot of volunteer coordination. The commitment of these folks and the sense of community at NYO, it’s really special.

“I’m not an athlete—so it’s the culture piece, the connect, and the fact that everyone’s welcome to come and learn and experience it,” she added.

This year, on the morning of the very first day of NYO, Courtney was greeted the same way she has been at every NYO for twenty years: with a big hug from Louise Leonard.

“She gave me a big squeeze,” Courtney shared. “And she said, ‘Welcome home.’”

Thank you for dedicating twenty years to NYO Games, Courtney!

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