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Kalle Benallie
ICT

They are "small and mighty," but don't be fooled. These ladies got game.

The Anasazi Ladies, a senior women’s basketball team, continue to go forward in tournaments despite being in their 70s. While the team is not entirely made up of Native women, it represents Indian Country in tournaments across the United States.

“It’s really hard to find ladies now. Especially Native American ladies that are still willing to play and that can play at our age,” player Roberta Johnston said.

The 75-year-old Muscogee Creek citizen played in junior high school and said at that time there were no female sports teams. Instead, like many, she opted for rez ball.

“I have been playing for a very long time. I just love the sport,” she said.

In 2020, the Anasazi Ladies won first place at the Arizona Senior Olympics. In 2021 they took gold at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah. In May, they placed fifth at the National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

“We did not do as well as we had hoped but we were happy we were able to attend the senior games and that we are still able to play at our age,” Johnston said.

She said other teams call them ‘the small and mighty’ team.

“We’re very proud to represent Indian Country — that just really motivates us to continue. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do this,” she said.

The Anasazi Ladies.(Photo courtesy of Jennie Platero)
The Anasazi Ladies.(Photo courtesy of Jennie Platero)

Mary Begaye, Navajo, was the one who suggested naming their team the Anasazi Ladies, meaning the ancient ones in Navajo.

She’s been playing since elementary school and joined the team in her 50s in 2000.

“I love playing. It’s a team sport so we’ve been playing together for a long time,” Begaye, 71, said.

Although she has battled multiple injuries like a broken wrist and a knee replacement, she continues to play. She’ll think about whether to continue when she turns 80.

She hopes playing at their age will inspire the younger generation to play a sport.

“We all play to have fun and to stay in good condition and our health. I think that’s what really motivates us to keep going,” Begaye said.

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Their coach for eight years, Herbert Platero, said the team is young at heart and he admires how dedicated they are.

“Native women have always been known for their mental strength, endurance and perseverance and have a knack for anything they undertake despite their age,” he said.

His wife, Jennie Platero, Diné, is also a player on the team; he used to coach her former team for more than 30 years.

“I started coaching because I was asked to since I had a PE/coaching degree. Coaching my wife as a player made it special,” he said.

Herbert Platero and Jennie Platero. (Photo courtesy of Jennie Platero)

Jennie, 72, hopes to continue to play as long as she is able to. She said she met a 94-year-old woman who was still playing basketball.

“Hopefully, I can still play at that age too,” she said.

She has played basketball in high school and in independent teams in college and after.

“I love playing basketball because it keeps me active and tremendously helps health wise,” she said.

And being part of the Anasazi Ladies has connected them to others in new ways then before.

“Representing Native country gives me a sense of pride and identity to share with others and non-Natives. We have gained many friends from teams across the country and some from abroad,” Jennie said.

The team plans to attend the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah in October and possibly play the New Mexico Senior Olympics in Santa Fe, New Mexico in November. 

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