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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 29, 2001 - Issue 52


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Tournament has Evolved Over Years

credits: photo Steve McEnroe/Journal staff
Tournament SceneRAPID CITY - It's different, it's unique and it's getting bigger every year. "It" is the 25th annual Lakota Nation Invitational basketball tournament, and yes, it's back in town.

It's different and unique from other events in many ways. From the three pitched tipis in the north end of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Arena, to the line of dancing girls in shawls, to the fanciful mascots, to the run-gun-and-have-fun brand of basketball played on the court, the event has become a big part of Rapid City's entertainment horizon.

Characterized by some as possibly the best basketball tournament in the state, this little basketball tournament has evolved into an all-around event. Now, volleyball, wrestling, boxing, Knowledge Bowl competitions and hand-game tournaments (an intertribal guessing game) round out what promises to be a full weekend for participants and spectators.

"This is one of our largest events of the year," Mark Duryea, civic-center events director, said. "This is right up there with the Black Hills Sports Show and Home Show. I'd even put it up there, based on scope and sheer volume, with the Harley-Davidson events."

Duryea, a fight fan originally from San Francisco, is stoked about the boxing matches that will be Saturday in Room G in the upper Rushmore Hall.

"I'm not from South Dakota," Duryea said. "But it's a real pleasure to see kids come here who are athletes and scholars, and see them have a good time."

And this is all part of LNI Tournament Director Brian Brewer's vision: Make this an event that is as colorful, majestic and intimate as a pow-wow.

"What I like most about this tournament is it's like a big family reunion," Brewer said. "When the people come in and see the tipis against the back wall, it's like coming home. It's a chance to add a real homey atmosphere to the tournament. And if you look around, there's people walking around and talking to each other, just like a pow-wow."

Tom Allen, the announcer for the basketball games who's been with the tournament the past 23 years, is a prime example of the blending of the new and old Indian ways. One of his announcements Wednesday afternoon implied that some of the elderly scorekeepers at the table, in honor of the silver anniversary of the event, dyed their hair silver.

"I've learned from watching pow-wow announcers," Allen said. "They're always telling jokes, keeping things lively."

And in his 23 years of volunteering his time, Allen has seen big changes. "This has turned from a basketball tournament into a big youth festival," Allen said. "It's a chance to let the kids showcase their talents."

And to think, "it" all started out of the need to find some basketball games for two Indian high schools that were caught in the middle of the mid-1970 interracial conflict called Wounded Knee.

"I was the head basketball coach of Pine Ridge at the time, and Dave Archambeault was the head coach at Little Wound, and we couldn't get anybody to come onto the reservation to play us," Brewer said. "Some of the schools wouldn't even let us come to their schools for fear that trouble would follow. So we started calling teams to come play us in our little tournament."

For two years, Pine Ridge played host to the event until the sheer logistics of 16 basketball teams playing over a four-day period required the move to the civic center.

Civic center Manager Brian Maliske pointed out the economic impact on Rapid City generated by the tournament. "We have between 5,000 and 6,000 fans coming through the doors a day, and this is just on Wednesday and Thursday. Wait until the weekend," Maliske said.

Maliske's comments were bolstered by an estimated impact of about $420,000, a figure supplied by the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce. "I just came from the mall, and it's packed today," Maliske added.

Rapid Citian Barry Sykora, a spectator at the afternoon session, talked about the quality of the event. "I make it a point to come down here every year during my lunch hour," he said. Sykora, 45 and a former Rapid City Central basketball point guard who guided the Cobblers to two state tournaments in the '70s, is naturally drawn to this event. "This is good basketball. ... I wouldn't miss it. These teams play the game the way it's supposed to be played ... up and down the floor. It's just such a good tournament and such a good atmosphere."

Takini mascot Seth Longbrake, 7, is wearing a blue Skyhawk outfit, complete with yellow bill on his headdress and Big Bird feet. He is joined by Lance Benson Jr., who's sporting a warrior ensemble and carries a menacing rubber spear. "When they do the lineup (for the Takini Skyhawks), we go and stand out there," Longbrake said. Longbrake, the Skyhawk, neglected to mention that Benson, the warrior, chases him as they lead their team onto the court for warmups.

Benson's mother, Janelle Hollow Horn, sits in the crowd videotaping the Skyhawks and is proud that her son got to be the warrior mascot because he's a member of the school's TAG program (Talented And Gifted). "This is his first year to be the mascot," Hollow Horn said.

Meanwhile, behind the east stands, teams of 10 children engage in hand games, a game that has them chanting Lakota songs and pounding drums.

"It" is the merge of old and new — and it all started as a basketball tournament.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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