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Alaska Native Games competition taking place in Rigby this week

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RIGBY — Local elementary students will soon showcase their talents by competing in games that have been around for thousands of years.

Roughly 50 athletes from Cottonwood Elementary and Harwood Elementary will participate in the Rigby Junior Alaska Native Games on Friday. The free event gets underway at 4 p.m. at Cottonwood Elementary, 3955 East 200 North.

The Alaska Native Games are meant to help strengthen people physically, mentally and emotionally, plus help build motor skills, said Marcus Gho, who is in his first year coaching the games in Rigby.

“During long, dark winters, (Alaskan) hunters still need to maintain strength and agility, so these games were developed to help maintain these important survival characteristics,” Gho told “Games like this bring communities and people together. They are fun to watch and also fun to participate in.”

Elementary students in second grade and above will compete in the seal hop, scissor broad jump, Eskimo stick pull, one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick and the Alaskan high kick. Ribbons will be awarded to the top six athletes in each event after the competition.

The games require athletes to perform certain moves such as kicking a ball a certain height, jumping and landing while maintaining one’s balance, and hopping in the push-up position on flat hands.

“Many of my athletes have told me that these games are hard, but they work at it and break their own personal (records) as they improve,” Gho mentioned.

Although people compete individually in the games, Gho said it’s different than other individual competitive sports.

“If you ever get the chance to watch people compete in Alaska Native Games, you will see top athletes help each other out with tips and encouragement, even if it means the tips and encouragement ensure their competition wins the event that day,” he explained.

Gho said the games are important to him because they are part of his Eskimo heritage. While living in Juneau, he volunteered to coach a Junior Native Youth Olympic team at his child’s elementary school from 2014 through 2020. He also coached a team at his son’s middle school.

Gho enjoys sharing his love for the events with other people and has found satisfaction watching the elementary students “build each other up through these games.”

“I ask my athletes what they learn about these games, and I find it gratifying to repeatedly hear from our youth that some of these games are hard, and they like to see how much they have progressed in them because of their grit,” Gho said. “When I hear comments like that, my heart is full of hope for our future.”

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