03 Apr Custom-Made Kits Level the NYO Games Playing Field
Thanks to a Healthy Communities grant, 13 kits will benefit schools without access to standard NYO equipment
The kickstand is maybe the most iconic piece of equipment used by NYO Games athletes. Every year at Senior NYO Games, eight kickstands with suspended sealskin balls occupy the competition floor for four out of the ten events: the Alaskan, One-Foot, and Two-Foot High Kicks, plus the One-Hand Reach.
But for many NYO teams around the state—particularly those in rural communities—a quality kickstand can be hard to come by.
“There’s a lack of funding with the school districts for NYO equipment, which puts some students at a real disadvantage when they finally compete at the state Senior NYO event. Practicing a kicking event with a wiffle ball, for example, doesn’t necessarily put them at the same level as kids who have access to the right equipment,” explained NYO Coordinator Adele Villa.
Thanks to a $15,000 Healthy Communities: Arts, Culture, and Play grant awarded to NYO Games by The Alaska Community Foundation, 13 Alaska schools, including nine schools outside of Anchorage, will receive specially made NYO Games kits.
The kits include everything needed to practice all NYO activities: a tapered dowl and a stick for the Stick Pull events; a pole for the Wrist Carry; and a kickstand, complete with a string and sealskin ball, plus a measuring tape.
Everything fits into a standard ski bag, which Adele chose because it’s a typical piece of luggage seen at Alaska’s airports.
“We needed something that could go out to communities that wouldn’t cost $500 to ship,” she said. “It’s so common for people who live in Arctic regions to travel with skis or a snowboard, so the ski bag made sense for packaging the kits.”
Trial and Error
But how do you fit a seven-foot-tall kickstand into a ski bag? Adele’s answer: Get her husband to figure it out.
Louis Villa, who hails from Texas originally, was first introduced to NYO through Adele and her family. “I love how NYO teaches kids at a very young age that we’re all trying to support each other. You need that for a culture to grow,” he said.
Adele provided Louis with specifications for the kickstand, emphasizing that it would need to fit in spaces with a low ceiling, that it needed to be extremely light, and that stability was key. To fit in the ski bag, it would have to be collapsible—but also easy to assemble. Finally, the kickstand also had to be adjustable to accommodate record-setting skills: The highest One-Foot High Kick ever measures 114 inches, or nine and a half feet, and was first set by John Miller III in 2003, and matched by Stuart Towarak in 2013.
Armed with these requirements, Louis built several prototypes, using mostly off-the-shelf parts to create a kickstand that other builders could potentially replicate.
A Successful Debut
Louis debuted his design at Junior NYO this February, where NYO Head Official Nicole Johnson and Kyle Worl, the NYO coach for the Juneau team, scrutinized it.
“Those were the two people I wanted to look at it and give me their feedback,” Adele admitted. “The first thing Kyle did was pick the stand up—and he was like, ‘This is super light!’ As soon as I saw their excitement, I knew that it was perfect.”
With Kyle and Nicole’s approval, production moved forward. With help from Adele’s father, Henry Lee, Louis is building thirteen stands, total, and hopes that future additional funding will make it possible to build more.
Meanwhile, Nicole provided the tapered and lacquered Stick Pull sticks for the kits, while the NYO sealskin balls were made by local artist Mary Kakoona. Fully packed, the kits weigh less than 50 pounds; this light weight, combined with the wheels on the equipment bags Adele chose, make the kits easy to transport anywhere.
Recently, officials with the Arctic Winter Games reached out to Adele and Louis to inquire after kickstands for their 2024 event, which will be hosted in the Mat-Su Valley. But the priority is equipping Alaska’s NYO teams with the tools they need to successfully learn about and play traditional Alaska Native games.
NYO Values on Display
This project, Adele said, is emblematic of how the NYO community relies on interdependence and teamwork to reach goals.
“I was able to get advice from officials and coaches and athletes to make these pieces,” she described. “It really warms my heart, realizing how everyone contributed.”
She hopes that the kits will benefit NYO teams—or communities who want to establish teams—all over the state. But she also hopes parents are encouraged to get more involved in the Games with their kids.
“Traditionally, these games were done at gatherings and celebrations, in the homes of family members,” she said. “Parents can create more togetherness with their kids by sharing the Games. And with these kits, plus our instructional videos and the NYO Handbook, there’s really no barrier to who can get involved and potentially start their own team. Providing these tools allows us to share our culture, traditions, and history, even with youth who aren’t Alaska Native. It plants the seed to get everyone more involved.”
While four NYO kits are earmarked for Anchorage teams, nine remaining kits will be given to communities or teams outside of the city.
If you’re interested in an NYO kit with kickstand, Stick Pull sticks, Wrist Carry pole, and additional equipment, you can make a request by filling out this Google document. Kits will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Those requesters who do not receive kits will be put on a list of future recipients, contingent upon additional funding.
Are you a business or individual interested in making NYO Games more accessible for all Alaska youth? Learn how you can support NYO Games or fund the creation of additional NYO kits by contacting Kelly Hurd at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 793-3272.