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Basketball Comes to Tohono O’odham Community College

Roland Ramon has been told his entire life he could play college basketball and now at the age of 36, his dream has finally come true.

The Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) on the Tohono O’odham Reservation in Sells, Arizona, have put together their first ever men’s basketball team.

“I feel fortunate and grateful,” said Ramon, member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “I have waited my entire life to get to this point.”

Ramon, who has four children, jumped on the opportunity to play on the team because he wanted to go back to school and playing basketball was an added bonus.

Matthew Vargas, the team’s coach, was the person who presented the idea of having a basketball team to the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Vargas is the Recreation Division manager at the Recreation Center on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. He loves basketball and teaching the game to anyone who wants to learn. He even takes youth from the Recreation Center to different basketball tournaments to expose them to something positive.

“I thought to myself we have graffiti on all the buildings [on the reservation] and a community college right there, why don’t we give the youth something to look forward to,” said Vargas.

On July 21, the men’s basketball team was introduced at the TOCC Basketball Tipoff event sponsored by the college, Tohono O’odham Nation Education Department and Indian Oasis Baboquivari Unified School District. Twenty men make up the team with eight Tohono O’odham, two Navajo, one Pascua Yaqui and nine non-Native American players.

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On September 10, TOCC held a fundraising event for the team giving the community an opportunity to meet the players, get autographs and have photos taken with them. This served as a way to interest youth in attending the college and hopefully gain some role models in the players.

“People are excited and basketball is a sport a lot of people enjoy on the Tohono O’odham Nation,” said Jane Latané, interim president of TOCC. “The students are also happy there is an addition to their studies.”

TOCC also recently welcomed a mascot to their college, Jegos, an O’odham word for a windy dust storm that comes from the monsoon rain. Jegos is pronounced something like “jug’ohs” with emphasis on the first syllable.

“Jegos represents the powerful Tohono O’odham Community College athletes coming your way,” as stated on the TOCC website.

The mascot and men’s basketball team have been a “wonderful boost” for the college said Latané. This fall semester they have 290 registered students and are still enrolling high school students for dual enrollment, which allows high school students to take college courses to earn high school and college credit.

Latané said the average student who attends TOCC is in their 30s but hopes the basketball team will attract more students right out of high school.

Vargas said he already has had people come up to him who want to play on the team next year.

“I think the future is so bright as long as we stay the course,” said Vargas. “I really want these kids to succeed and show the world that they can play basketball at a high level.”

The TOCC men’s basketball team begins scrimmages October 1 with their first game on November 1 against Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona.