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Meet Shoni Schimmel! 30 Northern Cheyenne Kids Hit the Jackpot!

Throughout Indian Country, Shoni Schimmel’s free-spirited, create-on-the-fly style of basketball is synonymous with rez ball. Now, it looks like Schimmel’s name will also be associated with the Powerball; well, “rez Powerball.”

Thirty lucky Northern Cheyenne kids won the lottery when their name was chosen to make the 12-hour trip from Lame Deer, Montana, to see the Atlanta Dream star and her family at the Salish-Kootenai College basketball camp in Pablo, Montana, on October 4-5.

It was a numbers game, and the Northern Cheyenne elders who coordinated the drawing did their best to make it fair. They had 72 applications for 30 camp spots. The solution was to put all 72 names in a hat and draw out the winners. For the 30 lucky participants, it was an Atlanta Dream come true.

RELATED: Shoni Schimmel Visits Flathead Reservation; ‘Be Proud to be Native!’

“I couldn’t believe it when they called my name,” 11-year-old Sylvaiyah Shorty told ICTMN. “I couldn’t breath while they were pulling the names out. It felt like I won the Lotto, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”

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The camp included tribal members from Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, North Dakota and Arizona, as well as Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada – 256 campers in all. Some came from another country; others traveled hundreds of miles from different states to the Flathead reservation.

“Instead of someone from the school district drawing the names, we had the local pastor draw the names,” Northern Cheyenne Tribal Schools employee Sheldon King said. “When I talked to the kids whose names were called, they said ‘I can finally sleep,’ because they were so stressed out over getting picked. There were some tears, but we made it as fair as possible.”

Determining who would make the journey was just part of it. “We put out a financial challenge to the people and by the time we were ready to leave on Saturday [October 4], we had already raised enough to feed the kids,” King said. “I think it was meant to happen. We were trying to do a good deed for our community and everything fell into place. A lot of prayers were answered.”

Financial strain was playing out in another community as well. The Northern Cheyenne didn’t have enough money to stay in one of the local motels and had planned on sleeping on the floor at one of the local high schools in Pablo. “When I heard what they were planning I went to our tribal council and told them of their dire need,” camp promoter Monty Marengo said. “They passed my offer to have the coaches and bus drivers stay at the KwaTaqNuk Resort. The council picked up the entire tab for 18 rooms [$1,556]. It made their trip just that much better and I couldn’t have been happier.”

The journey was long and arduous at times, but it’s not every day you get to meet your hero. “The bus ride was so long, but it was worth it. Shoni is a famous basketball player,” Shorty said. “I think it’s really important to see your heroes up close. It was pretty special.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Aniyah Grant, 13, when her name was drawn. “This is so exciting to be able to come here and meet Shoni,” she said. “There were so many different nations here and we all respect her so much. It’s like a pow wow. Knowing she grew up on the [Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla] reservation, I think, gives us hope we can do things too.”