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Tahnee Robinson to Keynote Inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame Induction

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Tonight the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony will induct 21 athletes into its inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame class. The mission is not just to honor its past athletes and its culture, but to inspire its current generation of athletes.

Of the 21 members, the RSIC’s first Hall of Fame class includes three profession athletes, four athletes who played at NCAA Division I schools, five area high school athletes and nine graduates of the now-closed Stewart Indian School.

The ceremony will be held at the Colony Gym, 34 Reservation Road in Reno, Nevada, starting with a community dinner at 5 p.m. PDT. The awards ceremony is slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. PDT, with Tahnee Robinson serving as the mistress of ceremonies and keynote speaker.

RELATED: Tahnee Robinson Transitions From Player to NCAA Division I Coach

Currently on the coaching staff at the University of Nevada, Robinson was a standout women’s basketball star for the Wolf Pack before being Nevada’s first WNBA selection. From the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, Robinson is of Pawnee, Eastern Shoshone, Northern Cheyenne and Sioux decent.

The RSIC 2015 Athletics Hall of Fame inductees range from Harry Sampson who set records at Stewart Indian School in 1915, played in the A’s minor league baseball system and went on to serve as the Colony’s first tribal chairman, to Cecil Wyatt, who was a two-sport varsity letter winner at Wooster High in 1991 and currently serves as a tribal police officer for the RSIC.

According to Randy Melendez, an assistant in the RSIC Recreation Department, who developed the idea for the Athletics Hall of Fame and is responsible for most of the historical research, the tribe wants to have an Athletics Hall of Fame for three reasons.

“We want to honor our past because these athletes were really remarkable and sports like running and basketball are still a big part of the culture of our community,” said Melendez, a retired educator. “Plus, we want to send a message to our youth that these are role models and if today’s athletes work hard, they too, can be anything they want to be.”

Melendez, a retired principal from Pyramid Lake High, who was inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association in 2013 for his coaching achievements, said as a youth, sports help him find his way.

In addition to his decorated coaching career, Melendez lettered in cross country and track at Utah State University and the University of Nevada. One of the 2015 inductees, Melendez graduated from Wooster High in 1971.

“Sports guided me to my place in the world,” Melendez said. “From an early age, with support from my family and some very influential coaches, I saw the value and opportunities that athletics could provide me not just to stay close to sports, but ultimately to build a career.”

Among the United States’ 562 federal recognized American Indian tribes, Native Americans are the most under-represented ethnicity on NCAA teams.

The cause of this dismal participation is complex.

First, for most Native Americans, standing out individually is at odds with their culture.

“Our culture promotes the principle of functioning as a group,” said Ron Trosper, a Harvard-educated member of the Flathead tribe in Montana who is associate professor at the University of British Columbia. “This hinders the advancement of Native American athletes, starting at the college level, where individual achievement is rewarded.”

Even more dismal than the Native American participation rates in college athletics are the high school graduation rates for American Indians throughout the United States. In 2015, the high school graduation rates for Native American students in Washoe County was just 43 percent.

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“You have to finish high school to attend college,” Melendez said.

But despite the difficulties finding their way onto a collegiate team, let alone becoming a high profile athlete, history is littered with famous Native Americans athletes and their noteworthy accomplishments.

In the 20th century, Jim Thorpe, a Sac & Fox Indian, won two Olympic gold medals, played professional baseball and football and became the first president of the league that would become the NFL. Billy Mills, a Sioux who came off the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, scored one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history when he won the 10,000 meters in 1964.

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In fact, Native Americans, in partnership with their First Nations cousins in Canada, claim to have originally played in some form of what are now 10 Olympic sports, including canoeing, kayaking, sledding and field hockey. Lacrosse is another sport that originated in Indian Country.

RELATED: Lacrosse: A Sovereign Tradition

“We believe that by honoring our past athletes, our youth will be inspired to strive for their own excellence,” Melendez said. “My dream came true and I got to be teacher and coach, so I am proof that athletics can lead to a healthy, happy, quality existence.”

Some modern-day, high-profile Native American athletics include: Notah Begay III (golf), Sam Bradford (football), Jacoby Elsberry (baseball), Joba Chamberlain (baseball), Kyle Loshe (baseball), Shoni Schmillel (basketball), and T. J. Oshie (hockey).

Here is a complete listing of the 2015 RSIC Athletics Hall of Fame members: Harry Sampson, Dewey Sampson, Willis Moose, John Dressler Sr., Stressler O’Daye, Tellivan Eben, Leslie Eben Sr., Jack Ridley, Joseph J Rivers, Brady Johnson Jr., Phelan Sampson, Floyd Sampson, Robert Hunter, Harold Wyatt, Arlan Melendez, Michael O’Daye, Randy Melendez, Tony Abbie, Shawn Shaw, Cecil Wyatt, and Preston O’Daye.

The selection of the 2015 class was based on the inductees having already been honored through a hall of fame selection by another association or based on his professional or college athletic accomplishments.

In the future, the RSIC Hall of Fame will open the induction process to nominees. In addition, organizers are hoping that this Hall of Fame will serve as a model for the other 32 Nevada tribes to establish their own system of honoring past athletes which might lead to a state-wide Native Hall of Fame.

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About the Colony

The RSIC was established in the early 1900s and formed a federally recognized government in 1934 under the Indian Reorganization Act. Located in Reno, Nev., the RSIC consists of over 1,100 members from three Great Basin Tribes - the Paiute, the Shoshone, and the Washoe and provides essential services to over 7,000 Natives. The reservation lands consist of the original twenty-eight acre Colony located in central west Reno and another 1,920 acres in Hungry Valley, which is nineteen miles north of the Colony and west of Spanish Springs, Nev., nestled in scenic Eagle Canyon.