BSSD WRESTLING AND CHEERLEADER TOURNAMENT— ​Ricky Paniptchuk of Shaktoolik, left, gets ready to wrestle Cody Aningayou of Gambell in the Elementary Snipe Division during last week’s BSSD 36th annual Wrestling and Cheerleading tourney held in Unalakleet.

36th Wrestling and Cheerleading Tournament held in Unalakleet

Little stirs “the force” in Bering Strait School District schools and villages like the annual Elementary/Jr. High Wrestling & Cheerleading Tournament.

For 36 years these young athletes have sweated through practices in preparation for this single seasonal event. Grandparents who participated in the meet now show up to cheer their grandchildren.

For four days the Unalakleet Schools gym shook with cheers, both from the crowded stands and the large contingent of young cheerleaders. The emotion and physicality is unmatched in any other competition seen in our region.

With almost 300 participants the sessions are long and athletes and fans alike get little chance to relax on the path through to the championships on Saturday. The energy displayed on the mat is contagious, though, and the audience feeds off it and sustains remarkably until the end.



Large squads with veteran coaches from Gambell, Unalakleet, Stebbins and Shaktoolik all hoped for success while others with younger or newer coaching staffs came in excited to topple the more established programs. 

When the dust had settled near midnight on Saturday night there was mixed results. The Stebbins Grizzlies dominated the Elementary Large School Division to win easily but Gambell bounced back with a team victory in the Jr. High Large School Division. Shaktoolik was unstoppable in both Small School divisions taking the two titles home for the first time. Their kilted head coach Jason Polcyn wondered if his unique attire aided their efforts but it was evident to all present that his protégés were as prepared as any in the tournament.

Outstanding Wrestlers were Lawrence Lockwood of Stebbins and Dean Paniptchuk of Shaktoolik.



The Cheerleading Tournament runs concurrently with the wresting event. Mornings are spent in clinical trainings with the spirit squads returning to cheer on their wrestlers in afternoon and evening sessions while also performing various competitions as well. With “All-American,” “Partner Stunts” and team dance routines all in play it adds an exciting element to the event.

Shannon Tocktoo of Brevig Mission and Margo Daniels of Unalakleet were selected as the top “All-American” cheerleaders.

The pre-eminent competition is the team dance routines and there were many outstanding performances. The Koyuk Malemute and Unalakleet Wolfpack cheer squads each took top honors in their respective divisions.  The coveted “Spirit Stick” was awarded to the Savoonga Huskies for their overall enthusiasm, spirit and performance.

Two other noteworthy awards were the “Team Sportsmanship” trophy, which went to the White Mountain Wolves and the “Super Fan” award, which was new this year. The latter was started in honor of one of BSSD’s greatest fans, Mary-Ann Noongwook from Savoonga, who passed away this year.

Edna Savetilik of Shaktoolik was chosen for this inaugural honor.


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