ANCHORAGE -- Leroy Shangin had a strategy for the Alaskan high kick at this year's Native Youth Olympics.
While other athletes competed barefoot or wore basketball footwear, the 18-year-old high school senior donned his wrestling shoes.
"My wrestling shoes give me more of a straight reach," Shangin said.
At 76 inches -- a new personal record for Shangin -- the reach helped.
The Native Youth Olympics drew 74 teams to the University of Alaska Anchorage Sports Center this weekend. The statewide event kicked off Thursday with 343 athletes, grades seven through 12, competing.
Eleven events were spread over three days, and students competed in everything from the kneel jump to stick pull, seal hop and the wrist carry.
Shangin considers himself an all-around athlete, competing in all 11 events. And he was the only person representing Soldotna High School.
"I'm the only one good enough," Shangin said with a laugh. Actually, he admits he's the only one on the team.
Shangin said he isn't really concerned about winning any of the events. He said the high kick helps with his balance and endurance, which helps him when he competes in wrestling.
He also enjoys participating in the history of the event.
"I've been doing this all of my life," Shangin said.
Shangin grew up in Perryville, a small community on the south coast of the Alaska Peninsula, but moved to Soldotna in the seventh grade.
"It's fun, and it's for everyone because everyone can play."
Shangin still prepares like any other athlete in any other sport. He stretches between kicks and his coach gives him a pep talk. Then he sits down and focuses on his next attempt.
"Their biggest enemy is themselves," said Ossie Kairaiuak, who judged the high kick.
The high kick requires balance. Athletes must start from a sitting position, balanced on one hand and foot. The athlete can't hop to gain momentum before swinging their leg up, and their hand must stay on the ground.
Judges look for a landing that's clean, Kairaiuak said.
"The athlete can't tip over or sway. When the kick gets higher it comes down to pinpoint accuracy and complete focus," Kairaiuak said.
The Olympics represent a state championship for many of the athletes. But for some, it's the only meet they'll compete in all year.
"The teams in the north, they have a regionals before coming here," said Rachel Moreno, who helps coach the NYO team from Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. "But this is it for us."
Mount Edgecumbe's team starts practicing in January when students return for the second semester of school. They practice for three months, try out and the best make the trip to Anchorage. Mount Edgecumbe was the only team from Southeast Alaska to compete.
"These kids do so much," Moreno said. "It's important that they get a lot of support."
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