Special to Indian Country Today
Credit Lisa Smith-Longman for rescuing the annual All-Indian men’s and women’s state fastpitch softball tournament – twice.
First was seven years ago when tournament directors decided to drop the annual event, which in its heyday drew over 100 men’s teams to Wheeler Park in Oklahoma City each July.
Smith-Longman, Delaware/Chickasaw, who has been associated with the tournament since playing in the women’s division at age 10, stepped up and took it over. Her dad, Charlie Smith, Delaware, was a lifelong participant.
The second time was this year when the global coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March. High school and colleges canceled their spring sports, while professional leagues have been postponed and are negotiating possible continuations of their seasons. Even the 2020 Summer Olympics has been moved to next year.
But when the state of Oklahoma began to allow summer youth leagues to play, Smith-Longman, 48, made the decision to stage the tournaments again this year.
The 68th-annual tournament will be held July 10-12 at the Otoe-Missouria tribal complex fields in Red Rock, Oklahoma.
“Teams have already said as long as there are no (travel) restrictions, they’re coming to play,” said Smith-Longman of Newcastle, Oklahoma. “We’re putting up signs to social distance, but that’s up to each individual.”
Smith-Longman, who also coaches the women’s team Chitto Harjo, said she’ll provide hand sanitizer, and tournament staff will wipe down dugouts with disinfectant between games.
She has a son, Taj Smith, 14, who has already played two spring baseball tournaments with his Oklahoma travel team during the pandemic, and has three more scheduled.
The USSSA organization is sanctioning youth softball and soccer tournaments in Oklahoma, which is recommending face coverings “in public situations where physical distancing might be difficult to maintain,” according to the state health department.
Oklahoma had 6,137 cases, ranking 39th among states, as of May 27 and 318 deaths from the coronavirus. Noble County, where Red Rock is located, had seven cases and no deaths as of May 27.
The tournament will be held in Red Rock for the first time at the tribe’s new softball complex. Smith-Longman was looking for a different venue after D-Bat Sports Complex in Oklahoma City wasn’t responding to field requests this winter.
She advertised her need on Oklahoma Native Softball’s Facebook page (ONASA Softball), and Brad Childs, recreation director at the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, responded.
The tournament will use the field at Frontier High School for the women’s losers bracket and the other four fields at the complex for all other games.
Red Rock, not to be confused with Red Rock State Park in western Oklahoma, is 83 miles north of Oklahoma City on U.S. Highway 177 near Interstate 35.
Defending champs along with S.D. squad will compete
Ponca City (30 miles north) or Stillwater (30 miles south) are the best locations for hotels, Smith-Longman said, and tournament discounts have been set up at accommodations in both cities. 7 Clans Casino in Newkirk is also offering tournament rates, about 20 minutes north of Ponca City.
Around 32 men’s teams and 23 women’s teams competed last year. Tribal Brothers of Rattan, Oklahoma, coached by Michael Clay and Chris Leaf, won the men’s division over Big Eagle Express, coached by Curtis Big Eagle of Norman, Oklahoma.
Chitto Harjo, coached by Smith-Longman and Ron Eagle Road, defeated Sun Dancer, coached by C.J. Fletcher of Ada, Oklahoma, for the women’s crown.
Smith-Longman said one of her best players, second baseman Amanda Harjo, Creek-Seminole, won’t be playing due to pregnancy, but starting pitcher Kelsey Watson, Apache, of Lawton, Oklahoma, is expected to return.
All players must have a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, or CDIB card, or a certified letter from their tribe stating membership.
Entry fee is $225 per team before June 24, then $275 before July 7, payable in cashier’s check, business check, money order or cash. No personal checks.
Smith-Longman said the status of Canadian teams making the trip is doubtful due to travel restrictions within that country related to the pandemic.
But teams are expected from California, Arizona, South Dakota, Texas, Mississippi, Kansas and elsewhere. All teams are guaranteed three games.
Richard Charging Hawk, Rosebud Sioux, said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach until he commits his team, Red Leaf, to enter the tournament.
Charging Hawk has made the 700-mile, 12-hour drive from Norris, South Dakota, to Oklahoma City annually since the early 1990s. Now 52, he’s found himself coaching sons of former teammates.
“They’re all young and ready to go but the main thing is we don’t want anyone bringing it back and getting our kids or the eldery sick,” Charging Hawk said.
He said Red Leaf usually makes a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, to play in a tournament in April but it was canceled due to the pandemic. And due to social distancing on the reservation and a late spring, the team hasn’t played a game yet.
“I’ll get together and talk with the guys (about going to Oklahoma or not),” Charging Hawk said. “If it gets any worse we probably won’t go, but I like to get them out where they can experience different competition, lots of Natives from different tribes.”
Golf, dominoes, cornhole tourney also slated
The first game on Friday, July 10, isn’t until 7:30 p.m. to allow for the first-annual ONS all-Native golf tournament in Ponca City beginning that morning.
During the softball tournament, on Saturday, July 11, horseshoe and cornhole tournaments are scheduled for the Otoe Battlefields and a domino tourney will be held at the tribal complex community building.
Food, apparel and crafts vendors are welcome during the weekend, but food vendors must offer items not available at the concession stand, Smith-Longman said.
Entry fees apply, but Smith-Longman, who was a catcher for 30 years and still hits if the team needs her, said it’s not about the money.
“For me it’s all about the camaraderie and the competition and tradition of the all-Indian tournament,” Smith-Longman said. “I also do it for my mom (Pamela Smith, Chickasaw) who died three years ago but kept pushing me to do it when I didn’t feel like doing it anymore. … If it weren’t for her the tournament would have ended.”
Interested teams, golfers or vendors can call Smith-Longman at 405-609-9929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eddie Chuculate, Creek/Cherokee, is a writer in Minneapolis. Reach him at email@example.com.