NYO family spans four generations

by Greg Lincoln

The Phillip family of Kongiganak is strong in Native Youth Olympics here in the coastal region of southwest Alaska. Their founding father is Tommy Phillip who has coached NYO for many years, both for his home team – the Kongiganak Wolverines and also the Lower Kuskokwim School District All Stars.

He is known as “Apii of NYO” by his family, said his granddaughter Marcy Daniel.

Back in the spring of 1985 Coach Tommy brought a team of four athletes to the Anchorage state NYO competition. His team of four boys managed to place fifth overall, stunning everyone at the event. At that particular NYO meet held at the University of Alaska Anchorage gym there were a few other athletes from other LKSD villages also participating individually or in small groups, like the boys from Kongiganak. Kipnuk was there with about five, maybe seven – with one who did really good, as well as one athlete from Toksook Bay.

They did well in their individual events – even taking first place, but it wasn’t enough to make it in the team standings. That is when the Lower Kuskokwim School District got the idea to form an LKSD all star team and it was led by coaches Stephen O’Brien of Kasigluk, Tommy Phillip, Paul Paul of Kipnuk, David Charlie of Toksook Bay, and others.

Coach O’Brien and the team of other coaches had a meeting to determine the all star team. They took the top student athletes in each event and swept the podium at the next state NYO competition. Athletes who once competed against each other were now brought together as a team. The students hailed from places such as Kipnuk, Toksook Bay, Chefornak, Kongiganak, Kasigluk and others. For many glorious years and years the LKSD All Stars dominated the games, winning team championship after team championship. No could beat the LKSD All Stars.

Other districts started forming their own all star teams. I can’t remember the year or the team that finally got first that wasn’t LKSD. It could have been the Anchorage team.

More students from the LKSD region started going to boarding schools such as Mt. Edgecumbe and Nenana and they continued to do well in NYO for their schools, winning medals and team trophies.

Coach Tommy continued coaching and teaching NYO. Through his efforts and with his community’s support he raised champion after champion in the grueling seal hop event – including not one, but three state record holders.

Tommy’s daughter Darlene was a state seal hop champion winning the gold medal in 1979, 1980, and 1981 for Kongiganak. She held the seal hop record of 136’ for 10 years. Tommy’s son Roderick also of Kongiganak was also a state seal hop champion throughout his whole high school career from 1989-1992.

In 2009 Jonathan Phillip of Kongiganak who is Tommy’s grandson became the state seal hop champion. He represented the Nenana Lynx, hopping over 100’. His seal hop photo was printed on the cover of the NYO magazine.

Tommy’s grandson Sigfurd Dock of Kipnuk holds the state boys record in the seal hop. His distance of 188’ still stands today set in 2015 – that is two times the length of the floor at the Alaska Airlines Center baseline to baseline where the record was made. In 2017 another grandson Jaden Anaver, also of Kipnuk, won the gold medal in the seal hop with his distance of 156’ 9 ½”.

In 2019 the story gets better and better. Yet another grandson of Tommy’s won the seal hop crown and TIED the state record. Tristan Anaver of Kipnuk, the younger brother of Jaden won, his distance was 188’ – tying the record set by his cousin Sigfurd Dock in 2015!

And now, today Coach Tommy – who is now retired – has another champion. Devon Mann, a great grandson also of Kipnuk is the reigning 2022 state seal hop champion. He won the gold medal a couple weeks ago with a distance of 113’ 8 ½”.

Congratulations Tommy, what a great legacy of sealhoppers and record-holders generation after generation. And congratulations to the Kipnuk Coach Paul Paul for the many years of coaching state seal hop champions.