Thanksgiving Hoop Tournaments Bring Grieving Communities Together

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Traditionally, the Thanksgiving holiday means family and friends gathering together to enjoy some turkey and football. Followed by more turkey and football.

But for many Native Americans, the U.S. holiday means it’s time to play or watch some hoops.

One of the longest running Native basketball tournaments staged during the Thanksgiving weekend is organized by the Tulalip Tribes. And for more than 20 years, two tournaments have taken place: the Tulalip Tribe All Native Thanksgiving Tournament, and the Tulalip Women's Thanksgiving Iron 5 Tournament. Both tournaments begin on Friday and continue until Sunday.

Organizers usually get between 18-24 men's teams taking part and about 10 women's squads.

Besides participants from Washington State, this year's tournaments will also include entrants from Alaska, Idaho and Oregon. "There's some pretty good Native players in the northwest," Tournament Director Lonnie Enick told ICTMN. "And we have some pretty good teams. In the men's division, there's eight or nine teams that could win it."

Enick said Native players often compete for various teams at events throughout the year.

"When one of them is getting a team together for a tournament it's usually a matter of who calls who first," he said.

Enick said this year's Thanksgiving tournaments will play an additional role in the community other than just being a time to get together and play or watch basketball. That's because Tulalip is part of Marysville, a community that was rocked last month when a high school student, who was a Tulalip tribal member, shot five of his classmates (only one survived) and then killed himself in a school cafeteria. "It's been an emotional time for our community," Enick said. "By coming out and watching some basketball this will help bring our community together."

RELATED: Five Funerals in 18 Days for Tulalip and Marysville

Meanwhile, the Barney Family Thanksgiving Tournament will be held in another Washington community, Toppenish. This event, which also runs Friday through Sunday, features two divisions. For starters there is a men's open division, and there's also a category that includes a height restriction; only those 6 feet or taller can take part. This marks the fourth year the tournament has been staged. "Our first year we just ran it and we wanted to see how it would go," said Tournament Director Andrew Barney. "We wanted to give local players something to do during the Thanksgiving weekend."

The inaugural event was deemed a success.

"By the second year we had teams calling us," he said. "They started calling us as early as August. And they kept calling us through September and October and telling us to make sure we reserve them a spot in the tournament."

Though Barney organizes the event, he said there are 15 family members that help with the additional details. The family organizes the tournament in honor of Barney's late grandparents and two aunts.

Yet another Native event being held this week is the Thanksgiving Weekend Basketball Tournament in Gallup, New Mexico. Like the others, this tournament begins Friday and continues until Sunday. Three divisions will be contested; men's open, women's open and men's 40 plus.