FAIRBANKS — The school in Huslia has gone to the dogs. And that’s a good thing. Thanks to a program developed by legendary sprint musher George Attla and embraced by Principal Teresa Cox, the Jimmy Huntington School has become a dog mushing institute of sorts.
The Frank Attla Youth & Sled Dog Care Mushing Program has attracted more than 30 middle-school and high-school students, including two mushers and two handlers who are participating in the Junior North American Championship sled dog races that started Tuesday afternoon at Morning Star Park in North Pole.
“It’s quite the project,” Attla said, after watching Thomas Henry, of Huslia, hit the trail in the six-dog race. “The whole idea behind the program is to instill pride in dog mushing Koyukuk River sled dogs.”
Attla, known as the “Huslia Hustler” during his prime racing days when he won the Fur Rendezvous World Championship eight times and the Open North American 10 times, pointed out that there have been several top-notch dog drivers from the Koyukuk River villages.
“I don’t think the kids really understand the importance dogs had in our culture,” Attla said. “We want to bring back the pride people had in their dogs.”
It seems like be working quite well.
“I thought it would be fun,” Henry said about enrolling in the program. “It’s been pretty cool.”
The program, named after Attla’s late son, Frank, features hands-on training in the four dog kennels in the Huslia area.
Henry raced in the six-dog class, while Attla’s granddaughter, seventh-grader Jazmyn Vent, ran in the four-dog class Tuesday afternoon. Eighth-grader Courtney Agnes and ninth-grader Dustina Sam are serving as the handlers for both teams.
“This is my first time doing this,” Sam said. “It’s fun and a lot of hard work.”
High school students in the program are enrolled in a veterinary science class, while middle school students are enrolled in a math and science class. High school students are receiving dual high school and college credits for completing the class.
The program includes two field classes per week working with local kennels in Huslia.
In March, there are plans to incorporate elementary school students to give all school children in the village the opportunity to participate in the program.
Attla said Cox is the person who made the program happen by embracing it and making it part of the school’s curriculum.
“She deserves all the credit,” Attla said.
“She rearranged the entire schedule to make it part of the school,” said Kathy Turco, who helped Attla develop the program. “That was key to the whole program.”
Attla seemed pleased with the way things went Tuesday afternoon.
“The kids had a great experience,” he said. “I must have waxed the sleds wrong because the dogs seemed to be working awfully hard.”
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7581.