Bush Brawl

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Last weekend was Bush Brawl ‘rumble in the arctic.’ It is held in Kotzebue and is one of the biggest wrestling meats leading up to Regionals and State. I heard about it last year and watched a little via the online live feed but did not really understand how big it was.

This year concessions money was spent to upgrade our 7 seater charter plane to a 19 seater. Because of this all of our 15 wrestlers got to go, minus one who was out of town, even the elementary. So Friday morning we piled on our ‘bus’ and headed to the airport.


Our ‘Bus’

I was trying to decide if the sled, snowmobile or plane was most like our version of a bus. I guess the plane is the right color and they have seats and teachers in the front telling them to settle down. Below is a picture of the plane we took. As we rounded the corner to the airport there was a course of, “Real bad plane!” I should point out that in village english real bad means that it is cool kind of like sick in lower 48 slang. As we got closer there were more comments that it was, “real big” and, “I never fly one this big before.” (fly on one)


So we loaded it up and loaded on.The picture doesn’t show all the kids very well because the elementary is in the back and their heads don’t poke up far enough. I passed out a few partially filled balloons on the way there and again on the way back hoping that we would be able to see a volume change but apparently we did not have a great enough elevation change.


When we got in it was a mad house. Many of the villages had already arrived and more kept coming as fast as the short Kotzebue bus could bring them. At that point it was almost one and class was still going so no one could put their bags anywhere but the hall, although we eventually moved ours to the gym, and no one in our group had eaten yet. Lunch was closed but the kitchen reopened for all the new arrivals. The kids got food and shortly after it was time to wrestle.

We moved our stuff to the gym around the time that the high school matches started. I thought it was odd that they started the high school matches, which were arguably the most anticipated, before school was out but I think they wanted to get it going as soon as possible because of the time crunch. From that point on it was basically nonstop wrestling on 3 mats until 10:00pm.

That would have been fine had the schedule held but slots were being switched without much notice and as soon as one slot was done the next started if it was time or not. So if middle school was supposed to go at 4 after high school and high school got done early then middle school may start early. Which meant that all of the students had to be in the gym or at least close to it and paying attention to the times and weight classes the whole time. 6 hours is a long time for middle school, let alone elementary, to sit in bleachers without a break. I though they did ok but it was a lot to keep them where they should be and out of trouble and make sure they didn’t miss a match.

I have said that this was a big tournament but I still have not said how big. I was under the impression that it was a district tournament which was true. All 12 villages were represented with groups of varying size but average of about a dozen. Kotzebue who did not have to travel had 40 in elementary alone. In addition to our district, Bering Straight School District brought 75 wrestlers from their 10 villages (BSSD is the district directly south of us). There was also a large group from Nome and another large group from just outside of Anchorage. All told there were 466 wrestlers representing the State from Barrow to Anchorage. To put that in perspective Shungnak’s entire population is under 300.

At some point the others did get to wrestle. I didn’t get very many pictures of the high schoolers because my camera was zip tied in my bag until it could be moved to the room and by then they were pretty much done. The picture below shows the crowd. The two wrestlers are middle school (not ours sorry).


This shows the  three mats and all the kids piled in between. Every hour or so they would yell at them to clear the path between mats, which they would do and then fill again within minutes. The one in yellow is from Kotzebue and I think the one that is hard to see behind is one of ours.

IMG_7054.JPGAfter it was all done we hung out in the room for a little while. I had brought some balloons figuring they would be board and a few of them tried their hand at tying. Another got ahold of my camera so I have a nice shot of me working on one along with a hundred of close up faces and out of focus walls.

The next morning wrestling started bright and early at 10:00am. We went all day long with a similarly ambitious albeit erroneous schedule. We took the middle and elementary kids to the store at one point (the only thing most of them cared about) when we were supposed to have a two hour break that high schoolers were wrestling. Turned out that they got done early and went straight in to the middle school matches so it was a good thing we were back early. Even so it was close on one of the matches.


Looking at this picture it seems like a bunch of people who are taking 3rd grade wresting way too seriously but really most of the shouting is just because it is so loud in there that it is impossible for the wrestlers to hear anything if you don’t scream it, and sometimes not even then. Our wrestling coach is particularly known for his decibel level during matches. I got into it too and by the end I was quite horse or as I said I was developing Ted Throat. People were especially entertained as he kept trying to show what they should do on me so we were kind of having our own wrestling match on the side as he shows a Half Nelson then an arm bar then grabbing my arm screaming “ABOVE the elbow!”

So to keep track we went from 10-2 then had a hour and a half lunch/shopping then went until 6 before the kids just couldn’t sit still any more. It was a long time to focus on other people. So we corralled them in the room and had the high schoolers, who were done at this point, as runners to get them when it was their turn. That worked ok for about half an hour then there was something fouled up that the schedule on the big board was wrong and so you had to listen for them to announce who was on deck which gave you somewhere between 30 seconds and 4 minutes to be ready warm and on the mat, not enough time to go back and forth to the room.

So we were back to the stands… until 11… which is a long time…then the awards started. They went for an hour but I ducked out a little early to stop by a friends house who has been holding my snowmobile for me. I was so excited to take it out for a spin. We got it started up and I was just too impatient and didn’t let it warm up before revving it and flooded it and couldn’t get it started again. Probably could have eventually but it was midnight and -20 so I called it good and went back.


The kids said I had ‘scary eyes’ in this one.IMG_7099.JPG

In the morning we got going early and caught our flight out at 10:00 and were back home by 11:00.


Also it’s now so cold that our frost has frost and our icicles too.



When you get into the Kunisuq (spelling?), or mud room, from outside it feels so warm even though it’s only 30F above in there.



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