I found a few stories from the fall of 2015 that made me proud. While these athletes didn’t bring home giant trophies, they did bring much excitement and pride to their tribal communities. Without further ado, here are the Native Sports Columnist’s “Fall Stars.”
Lawai (Idaho) High School
In the Nez Perce Reservation town of Lapwai, Idaho, basketball rules. Lapwai High School owns a state record for consecutive wins, with 81. But football was the talk of the rez in 2015.
The school earned a bid to the Class 1A Division I state football playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Wildcat die-hard fans logged more than 1,000 miles of travel following the team’s postseason run, which included road wins at Horseshoe Bend and Glenns Ferry.
The Wildcats (7-3 overall) finished third, following a 104-48 loss in the semifinals, prompting excitement in a school that is 89 percent Native Americans.
Lawpai, under head coach William BigMan, scored 53 points per game this year behind senior quarterback Courage Lone Bear, who threw for more than 2,600 yards.
“We haven’t had any trophies for football in a long time,” Lone Bear said, “and also we rarely have any trophies overall.”
Santa Rosa Day School (Sells, Ariz.)
At a school where children from local Tohono O’odham villages in the country’s second-largest reservation are bussed in, running as a sport is a relatively new idea — for the youth, at least. Charmaine Oldman, an elementary school teacher, coaches a junior high team in its second season. Highlight runners include 13-year-old Jereese Tashquinth, 12-year-old David Candiloo, 14-year-old Syrianna Nighthawk and 11-year-old Kristen De Cora. After running a season’s worth of courses ranging from 1.2 to 2 mile, the youngsters made the Arizona State Cross Country Championships, where everyone went home a winner.
Running is part of their tribal culture. Jereese reluctantly told of a tribal ceremony called the Salt Pilgrimage, where his people run dozens of miles to the ocean to gather salt. "It's a cleansing [for males]. The salt is a sacred thing to us."
Nighthawk enjoys participating in the Tribe’s annual Unity Run, one of a handful of running events for the people on the 2.8-million acre reservation.
Oldman typically recruits fifth graders, but also attracts interest from a grade below. "I encourage them to look at a long-range goal. (Cross-country) is a gateway to college."
Capital High School (Olympia, Wash.)
Two Native American underclassmen made waves this year at an Olympia, Wash. high school looking to tie a state-record for consecutive team appearances at the cross country championships. Sophomore Naomi Reyes (Squaxin Island) and junior Inanna McCarty (Makah) took on a leadership role for Capital High School in Olympia, Wash.
The team was set for a run at a 16th-straight trip to the State 3A Cross Country Championships when a storm hit their 5,000-meter Lakewood, Wash. course at districts. The weather proved difficult. “The entire course was like mud and huge piles of water,” McCarty said. “It was an insane meet. Everybody was like two minutes slower than their [usual] time.”
The team came up 16 points short of the state tournament, but Reyes was there to represent. She placed 30th on Nov. 7 with a time of 19:28.7 and received a shout-out on Twitter from Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills. She said her identity makes her a stronger runner.
“For me it's a lot of motivation for all the people that say bad stuff about our culture and always think that we can't go anywhere or go to college and stuff,” the 15-year-old said. “It makes me really proud to represent my tribe.”
Mead High School (Spokane, Wash.)
You don’t wind up at a Best of the West running meet if you’re not a go-getter. Mead High School’s Hannah Tomeo (Colville Tribes) can call herself a top-10 runner after her performance in the Foot Locker West Regional, which invited runners from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
It was one of many big events for the budding cross-country star. She placed third in the Nike Cross Nationals Northwest Regionals. She competed among the west’s best high school juniors in Walnut, California, finishing 10th with a time of 20:28.2. Prior to the meet, Tomeo helped Mead to placing 9th in the state. Her season-best was 19:48.
Checking Bandits player Mitch Jones, rookie Randy Staats tries to prevent any more points scored against the Swarm which ends in a Bandits victory of 21-14. Amy Morris/Ciraphotography.com
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