Unalakleet hosts BSSD Wrestling and Cheerleading tourney
The BSSD Annual Wrestling/Cheerleading Tournament has been held for 37 years. There has been an ebb and flow to the number of wrestlers as programs rise and fall but in the last several years there has been an increase that resulted in over 200 wrestlers from fourth to eighth grades packing their singlets and flying to Unalakleet. Adding more than 100 cheerleaders and coaches swelled the number to an impressive roster of visitors for Unalakleet School and the community.
Seed bouts were set for the first two sessions pitting wrestlers in each of the two divisions, Elementary and Jr. High, with others in their general weight class. They are quicker matches that allow all coaches to evaluate their athletes and be better prepared for seeding the actual tournament. It is also a great warm-up for athletes and fans alike as nothing is decided but all can get used to competing in a loud, raucous setting. With seed bouts completed and the brackets set, the matches began to count.
Experienced wrestlers looked poised and prepared while those who were experiencing this event for the first time looked apprehensive. The early rounds saw a lot of quick matches as many higher seeds dispatched those seeded lower. A double elimination tournament, the early losses didn’t mean hope was lost.
Crowd favorites like Jerel Tom of Stebbins, Ricky Paniptchuk of Shaktoolik and Paxson Commack of Unalakleet drew loud cheers as they rolled through the early rounds. The James girls, Kelsi and Anna, from Gambell, along with several other strong girls quickly showed that they were there to compete for championships.
Cheer squads ringed the mats during the first couple of sessions loudly urging their teams on to victory. Mornings were spent in clinics with cheer judges and coaches from Anchorage but their enthusiastic, and very loud, cheers could be heard even outside the gym the rest of the time.
All fifteen schools in the Bering Strait School District were represented in both wrestling and cheerleading this year, which is not common. It is often difficult to get Diomede to the tournament and some of the smaller schools sometimes don’t field both teams.
By Friday night there was a separation beginning as the more talented and experienced wrestlers began to assert themselves. Veteran observers could start to see who would be figuring into the championship mix. Added to the wrestling sessions were the cheer competitions: partner stunts, All-American Cheerleader and team dance routines. It was obvious that all teams had spent long hours perfecting their precision acts and the crowd answered each with loud ovations. When all was done Lori Nassuk of White Mountain and Lena Ivanoff of Unalakleet were selected as the top All-American cheerleaders in their categories. Beth and Aryana Ivanoff of Unalakleet and Rosie and Cameron Tocktoo of Brevig Mission won the respective Partner Stunt competition. The squads from Golovin and Unalakleet took home the dance routine titles and Golovin took the coveted “Spirit Stick” home for this year.
The Championship round opened with flashing lights and electric entrances as each wrestler in the 22 championship divisions was introduced. Those who had come out of the “loser’s side” of the bracket could still earn the title by beating their opponent twice, so stakes were high.
The early indications were correct and Tom, Commack and the James girls all won championships. Paniptchuk and Ethan Fagerstrom had one of the most physical matches of the tournament as they met each other’s challenge with strength and skill. Fagerstrom prevailed, but it was as close as it could be. Cody Aningayou of Gambell and Ryan Nashoanak of Stebbins) were the only that were able to meet the challenge of defeating the “winner’s side” representative twice to grab titles after losing earlier in the tournament.
Most Outstanding Wrestlers were Jarel Tom of Stebbins) and rookie Seth Paniptchuk of Shaktoolik. Unalakleet and Shaktoolik took the Elementary divisions and Savoonga and Koyuk won Junior High team honors. With five pins Jason Ozenna of Diomede) grabbed “Most Pins” title and Jaysen Otton from Koyuk had a six second pin to snag that trophy.
After over 500 matches in three days everyone still had enough energy to Eskimo dance, led by John Waghiyi of Savoonga, Mary Huntington (Shishmaref/Unalakleet) and Mickey Kokeok from Shishmaref). It was a beautiful way to culminate a long but exciting event.