RAPID CITY, S.D. - What has grown to be one of the largest basketball tournaments in the country has now become one of the largest youth and family gatherings.
It's more than basketball, it's more than sports itself, it's about people gathering together, having fun, and engaging in friendly competition to show their athletic skills, knowledge, cultural heritage and artistic abilities.
In fact, it may have to be renamed Lakota Invitational Gathering, or some such title, because of the diversity of events that take place. Bryan Brewer, organizer of the event, said he thinks a name change would be suitable if the board agrees. After all, the tourney began as the all-Indian tournament in its infancy and the name was changed when non-Indian schools were allowed into the tournament. The event has grown so popular that it is conceivable that it could become a national tournament.
According to Brewer, "The goal is to go back to the all-Indian tournament." Currently non-Indian teams are included, with Indian teams being given first preference. In the past queries have gone out to southwest teams, but many did not know what the Lakota Nation Invitational was all about. The southwest, as well as Montana field very successful Indian country basketball teams.
An article printed in Sports Illustrated after last year's LNI elevated the awareness of the tournament in some areas.
This year was the first year the girls' basketball schedule was changed to coincide with the boys statewide. In the past, the girls LNI was held in February in front of smaller crowds and during the December event the girls competed in volleyball.
"That gives the girls a chance to play before large crowds ? we want everyone to be equal. The girls LNI was not comparable to the boys in the past," Brewer said.
The coordination of such an event is not easy nor without problems. By putting the girls and boys together the board added a day of tournament play and three gymnasiums in Rapid City were used to house the games.
Brewer said there were fewer problems than expected due to the cooperation of the two schools whose arenas were used, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and St. Thomas More High School, one of the participants in the tournament.
"We need to give this a chance," Brewer said of the expanded event, "I hope the board will give it a couple more years to work out any problems."
To Rapid City, which is familiar with large gatherings for American Indian events and plays host to many government agencies, the LNI is one of the biggest events, in terms of economic impact.
"Given the numbers of participants, their parents and grandparents we estimate that with that group alone the economic impact will be $4.5 million in direct revenue. Then we can factor in the trickle down," said Jim McKeon, Rapid City Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
"This occurs at a good time - conventions are down, holiday shopping takes place. And you can see more marquees around town welcoming the tournament fans and participants. This is one of the largest cultural events in the country," McKeon said.
City government is also involved in a special way. The mayor's Undoing Racism Task Force served coffee, punch and cookies on the final day of the gathering.
"We want to extend a warm welcome to Rapid City in an even more visible way to all of the people, both participants and fans alike, who are here for the LNI," said Mayor Jim Shaw. The Task Force theme "All ages, all people - one community," exemplifies what the LNI stands for, Shaw said.
In addition to the 32 basketball teams at the tournament, there were 29 hand game teams, more than a dozen Language Bowl participants and hundreds of students participating in the knowledge and quiz bowls, not to mention the largest art show ever, and to top it off 16 wrestling teams.
Cultural events add tradition to LNI
"Some of the language that you have been around you know, some you don't know," said Becky LaBeau, Spring Creek on Rosebud Reservation, of the Language Bowl.
This is Becky's first time in competition and she studies the language daily.
"I'm trying to speak the language at home," she said. The elders in LaBeau's family all speak the language, but she is not around them all the time. Her parents speak a little, she said.
All teachers that coach the students are given a sample of what words and phrases might be included in the contest. They practice in school and home and participate in mock bowls. Each team may include up to five members and each will study four or fewer categories of vocabulary and phrases, said Emanuel Red Bear, Lakota traditional leader for Cheyenne-Eagle Butte High School.
He said the words and phrases get harder as the competition moves into the final stages. And over the years since Language Bowls have been introduced the difficulty factor has grown, as the students learn more about the language.
Elementary and secondary students participate on separate teams.
"The effort is to save the culture through the language," Stuart said.
Many categories, such as body part identification, math, ceremonial, numbers, emotions, science, weather, domestic and wild animals and insects are covered.
The participants have to press a button after the word is read in English by an announcer. They then have 10 seconds to answer and pronounce the Lakota equivalent correctly. Judges decide if the word is pronounced correctly.
The idea is to press the button as fast as possible to get the opportunity to answer. Team members often converse with each other about the correct word, but many times one team member has the answer quickly.
In addition to the Language Bowl, knowledge and quiz contests have become a staple at LNI. The questions asked of the students in the knowledge and quiz bowls can be current or about issues that come from the near past or in history.
The largest art show ever for the LNI gathering filled a room twice the size as the room used in the past. Students submitted art in traditional, contemporary, drawing and ceramics, which comprised hundreds of individual art pieces.
First time co-directors who organized the art show, Candace Whitehead, an art teacher from St. Frances and Mike Poland, government teacher from St. Frances said they were "in over their heads."
So much art was brought in from Pine Ridge schools, Ron Holtz the art teacher said he lost count. From elementary to high school, art in most every form is an important part of the elective curriculum. Because of the strong tradition the Lakota have to art, it is not only beautiful but functional in many ways, artists said.
What began hundreds of years ago as a gambling game has now become a competitive event among young and old in the Lakota culture. Hand Games, games of chance, skill and some good luck, have evolved to become a much seen event at many gatherings, pow wows and now some special Hand Game tournaments.
What the Hand Games are today exemplifies what the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament is to all participants - fun.
"The idea of the game is to get all the sticks on the ground on one side," said Gilbert Stuart, Rosebud, Hand Game teacher, participant and singer. Specially designed and artistically decorated sticks are used.
"It is a good time to meet people and keep our young people culturally aware," Stuart said.
As the game progresses a team member drums and sings and the participants make motions with their arms, hands and bodies in rhythm to the drumming.
The idea is that one person on a team, chosen by the team captain, holds two objects, symbolizing bones in each hand. One object is marked and the member of the other team is chosen to seek out the marked object.
Meanwhile the other team members gesture with their arms and hands to bring in good luck and put the "mojo" on the opposing team. It's all about luck. However, some days some team members have more luck than others.
A person is chosen to hold the objects because they have an ability to hide the marked bone while confusing the opposing team.
One game can take from 15 minutes to more than an hour, Stuart said.
"The idea is to have a good time. We want people to leave happy with good feelings and good thoughts," Stuart said.
Hall of fame
Several long-time contributors to the Invitational were inducted into the Lakota Nation Basketball Hall of Fame. Brewer was honored for the 27 years he has directed the LNI and his contribution to the youth and the sport of basketball.
David "Tally" Plume, Hall of Fame coordinator, said "(Brewer's) intent has always been, and continues to be, doing as much as possible to showcase the talents of our youth by giving them opportunities that will become lasting positive memories."
Brewer has worn many hats while working with youth as a teacher, coach, athletic director, principal and dean of students at Pine Ridge High School.
He has watched the LNI grow from an eight-team tournament on the Pine Ridge Reservation to 32 teams, knowledge bowls, language bowls, wrestling, boxing, volleyball, and now with the addition of girls in the basketball brackets.
Charlie Zimiga of Pine Ridge was also inducted into the Hall of Fame. Zimiga coached at Pine Ridge High School. He coached the Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes to the state Class A championship in 1989.
Three players, Jesse Mendoza, Lolly Steele and Bruce Bad Moccasin were also inducted in the Hall of Fame. Mendoza, now coach of the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte Braves played at Eagle Butte High School. He also played basketball for Huron University where he was named all-conference.
Lolly Steele attended Pine Ridge High School where she led the lady Thorpes to two state tournaments. She was named South Dakota basketball player of the year in 1984, her senior year. Steele now works at Pine Ridge High School as a teacher.
Bruce Bad Moccasin was an outstanding state recognized basketball player from Riggs High School in Pierre in 1967. He was on two State A basketball tournament teams and named to the all-state team.
The team recognized in the Hall of Fame was the 1962 Pine Ridge Thorpes.