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Shoni and Jude Schimmel Return to Umatilla Reservation

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When a full team of college athletes from one of the nation’s premier college basketball programs descends on an Indian reservation, it’s an occasion. It’s even more of an occasion when two team members grew up on the reservation. Such was the case when the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, complete with coaches, trainers and other staff, visited Oregon’s Umatilla Reservation for portions of three days. Shoni Schimmel made a name for herself as a freshman starting at guard last year for Louisville. Younger sister Jude has also signed with Louisville and this visit was an opportunity for the team to learn more about the homeland and customs of their Umatilla teammates. Rick Schimmel, Jude and Shoni’s dad, explained some of the background leading to this visit. “Part of it was a commitment he (Coach Walz) made to Shoni as a recruit that he would come back here to play games, but even further, this is an educational opportunity for his players to understand another way of life, another life style, another race that people have no reference to and a chance for them to see a reservation.” “It’s also a chance to bond and bring a team together, spend some time outside of a university setting and just say, ‘hey, let’s have some fun, come together as a team, and start this season off in a unique fashion.’” Most coaches will say the same thing, that bonding, creating almost a family-like atmosphere, is crucial to having a successful season. The coach in mention, Louisville's Jeff Walz, didn't need to be prodded to get his team to Oregon. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to go on a foreign trip, which we’re allowed every four years. Instead of going to Europe, we decided to go to Canada. We stopped in Portland and it made sense to me to just drive over (to the reservation). We needed special permission from the NCAA to make an extra stop and they granted that to us. It gives us a chance to give back to the reservation for Shoni and Jude and gives our players an opportunity to see where they were brought up.” The team arrived late the evening of August 4th, just in time to check into the Tribe’s Wildhorse Casino & Resort, their home for two nights. The following day was a busy, educational, and fun-filled day. A two hour practice session at Blue Mountain Community College started the day. Nearly 80 people surrounded the gym floor to watch. Then it was off to the tribal recreational gym where the team worked with local kids, helping them with ball handling skills, dribbling, shooting. About 100 kids, many as young as five or six, showed up to learn from some of the best college girls in the nation. Smiles were could be seen everywhere, both from the kids and from the Louisville team. A question and answer session followed, then time for autographs, and many youngsters left with autographed photos, shirts, and even faces. One wonders if those faces might still not be washed clean, as proud as the kids were to have them. The afternoon provided the opportunity to learn more about the Umatilla people. First was a tour of the tribal government building where Bill Queampts, Board of Trustees member, welcomed them and said how strongly the tribe supported the University of Louisville and how excited they are “for our little cousins here, Shoni and Jude.” He then talked of tribal history and the reduction in their aboriginal homeland after signing a treaty and its subsequent reduction; how they had to fight to stay here for their children and their children’s children. It was then off to Tamastslikt Cultural Institute where Bobbie Connors, the Tamastslikt director, led an hour-long tour of this museum, taking the team through the history of Indian people and particularly the tribes of this confederated reservation, the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla. She talked of the misconception of Indians as savages. They were shown a combination of four coyote stories. They heard of the introduction of the horse and its value to the tribe and she talked of the life of tribal members before the days of Lewis and Clark. Tia Gibbs, a team member from Louisville, later commented, “The museum was amazing. We’ve learned so much and have been able to piece things together by her (Shoni’s) strong bond with her family and the Native American community as a whole. We’re pretty much breath-taken right now. It’s great.” An evening “meet and greet” allowed the community to meet the team, get autographs, and have photos taken. The next morning they visited the horse ranch of a tribal member and got the chance to do some riding. For several girls this was a first and just a little frightening. But despite some apprehension, they eventually all seemed to enjoy the experience. Jude was asked of her experiences after ten days of college practice. “The practices are a lot more intense. It’s more just go, keep going and keep going. I think I’ll fit in just fine. I’m really short but we all get along really great. It will be fun.” She added that she will miss Oregon but certainly has no regrets about leaving for Louisville. “Just being here at home is just awesome, especially with my teammates makes it even better,” Shoni said. “To be able to experience this with them, coming to the reservation, meeting everybody, seeing how my life culture was and how it is, and the community to come out and just show their special support for us – it’s just great.” The team continued on to British Columbia for an additional eight or nine days. They will play three Canadian teams plus a whole lot of fun things to build that bond among the players.

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