October 24, 2008

Volleyball in Nikolaevsk

One of my sports assignments this week was to cover a volleyball tournament in Nikolaevsk, one of the Russian Old Believer villages in the Homer area (it's actually about halfway between Homer and Anchor Point on North Fork Road).

The Old Believers have been in this area for decades and Nikolaevsk is the oldest of their settlements on the Kenai Peninsula. They are a relatively small group of Russian Orthodox adherents who practice a version of their religion that existed before Russian Orthodoxy merged with Greek Orthodoxy in 1652. They have been persecuted ever since, finding only temporary homes in Siberia and South America before settling in the U.S., in Oregon and here on the Kenai. 

Around here, the Old Believers are noticeable primarily because of their appearance - the men wear long beards and the women dress in bonnets and long, homemade dresses. Other than that, they live life pretty much in the 21st Century - they drive cars, shop at the Safeway, go to the movies and have jobs in town (many of the men are commercial fishermen).

They also love volleyball.

The Nikolaevsk School, in fact, fields a volleyball team - the Nikolaevsk Lady Warriors - in their beautiful gym at the school. Below are some photos of their Friday evening match against Tok, which they lost in four games. Every year, they hold a four-day volleyball tournament where teams from all over Alaska come to play. The people of the village put the players up in the school and in their homes, show them around the village and share with them their unique culture.

I have found in my few meetings with Old Believers, that they are a warm and hospitable group of people. They are friendly and gracious and willing to share their stories. I talked with many of the village women Friday and found out they are huge volleyball fans. It was a lot of fun.

There will be a full story on the tournament, including interviews with some of the players and parents, in next week's Homer News. I'll post a link here when it's available.

In the meantime, you can view the full set of photos at my Flickr page.