Every year they gather from tiny villages spread across Alaska’s remote Bering Sea coast. Kids from Yup’ik communities travel hundreds of miles on bush planes and snowmobiles to compete on the biggest stage they will ever know.
Basketball is to the Alaskan bush what football is to Texas. The hope of Toksook Bay is Byron Nicholai, a 16-year-old who’s determined to lead his village to a championship in the District Tournament.
Byron’s father left his family when he was 14 and never taught him how to hunt in the traditional Yup’ik way. Hunting is an important part of life in the village, a tradition passed down over thousands of years. For Byron, this tournament is not just about basketball—it’s a way to prove himself and bring his community together.
Village elders warn that the Yup’ik way of life is in danger of disappearing. As Western culture erodes tradition, young people are losing their sense of Yup’ik identity. This has led to hopelessness and high rates of suicide. Basketball has become an unlikely source of healing for the Yup’ik community and the district tournament is nothing short of a cultural pilgrimage.
As his team advances to the championship game, Byron believes that leading them to victory will bring pride to his village and honor his ancestors.