“Being at Louisville is a huge honor because I’m getting to do what I love and that’s playing basketball,” Shoni Schimmel said at the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians Conference (ATNI) at the Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort in Worley, Idaho. Schimmel was invited to speak about growing up on the Umatilla Reservation. “I also know I have hundreds of people behind me who have my back, but my biggest supporters would have to be my family. I’m grateful to them because without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. They were always pushing me and telling me I can do it, you just have to go out there and do it.” Shoni Schimmel, if anyone in Indian country hasn’t heard, is the young lady who was one of the nation’s top high school basketball players a year ago. She signed with the University of Louisville to continue her education and to play basketball in arguably the best conference in the country for women’s basketball. After one season at Louisville she is the star on a team which made it to the “Sweet 16” of the NCAA tournament – and she still has three years of eligibility left. She spoke about the family: the grandmothers, her parents, and her siblings. “I love being around my family all the time. Going off to college was a huge step for me because not many people do that. You’re around your family all the time and come home to them after school but that step was good for me, but also good for everybody in my family, for them to know that everything’s going to be okay.” Schimmel talked about being, “one of the little Native American kids growing up on the reservation,” and being unsure of the future, unsure if she could make that step off the reservation. “It was great to be able to take a bigger step in my life and actually go to college and get my education and play basketball.” She said she didn’t fully understand the importance of grades and an education while in high school. “In college I kind of took it under my belt to get better grades. Without school, you can’t play basketball, and without basketball I don’t know what I’d do. I’d still be at home just hanging out with my family. But what I’m doing now is going to school and getting my education and also having the plus of playing basketball. That’s what I love.” The ATNI Board presented Schimmel with a Pendleton blanket. President Brian Cladoosby said, “This blanket represents all the love everybody in this room brought to you. When you’re away at college and missing the family and reservation and everybody, take that blanket and wrap it around you and you’ll feel the love that was brought into this room today.” Schimmel was asked who the toughest player was she faced. She didn’t hesitate in responding, “My sister.” That sister is Jude, who just completed an incredible senior season in Portland and was also recruited by Louisville. The sisters will be reunited next season and all of Indian country will be watching. Shoni’s mom, Ceci, thanked ATNI for the support of their youth programs and gave some thoughts on parenting. “I tell my kids every day you have to respect your parents.” She stressed the need for education and how important it is for parents to stress the importance of good grades. “Indian people like to have fun and laugh. We think with our hearts rather than with our minds. But let’s juggle both, our minds and our hearts.”
Shoni and Jude spent the next two hours signing photos and posing with people from a line that never seemed to end. Many of those photos are no doubt already proudly displayed on walls throughout the northwest. An auction of several signed basketballs and a “Schimmel” jersey was also held with the jersey selling for $250 and the balls for up to $450. Those proceeds will go to ATNI for their youth track. The day had started at 7:30 a.m. when Shoni led a group of about 50 runners on an early morning fun run. Considering that the Schimmel family didn’t reach the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort till about 3:00 a.m. after a long drive from Portland, it didn’t allow for much sleep. The day was capped off by a dinner and basketball game at the Benewah Wellness Center. “We’re going to have the old geezers and young geezers out there trying to play basketball with Shoni Schimmel and our tribal youth,” LoVina Louie laughed in announcing the game. The game began with a “Schimmel team” of family members playing the “old geezers,” mostly tribal leaders. The evening was strictly for fun and for the chance for lots of people to remember they once played basketball against Shoni and Jude Schimmel.