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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 12, 2002- Issue 53


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Reservation Scores a New Gym

Special thanks to Meadowlark Lemon for permission to reprint this photo of him and "Curly" Neal

Meadowlark and CurlyPORTERVILLE -- "Without a vision, people perish," said former Harlem Globetrotters basketball great Meadowlark Lemon, as he stood on the court of the new $1.4 million, state-of-the-art gymnasium at the Tule River Indian Reservation last week.

"Today you have fulfilled a dream that you saw and said it was going to happen and it did," Lemon told an audience of more than 350 adults and children at the gym's dedication.

Lemon and former Globetrotters teammate Fred "Curly" Neal were the stars in a ceremony that opened with a traditional American Indian blessing with burning sage by Phil Hunter.

Lemon, who played with the Globetrotters from 1956 to 1978 and was the team's "clown prince," now is an ordained minister in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In between shooting baskets on the court, he lectured to the children in the audience: "If you want to be better in any sport or almost anything you do, you must practice, practice, keep a positive attitude and respect your parents and teachers."

Lemon was joined at the ceremony by Neal, who played 22 years with the Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985, was known for his dribbling and shooting skills with a knack for hitting shots from beyond the half-court line.

The strains of the Globetrotters theme song, "Sweet Georgia Brown," played by The Fabulous Studio Band, heralded Lemon and Neal as they moved to the center of the court, where they commenced their antics, including ball-spinning, dribbling, bouncing the ball off people's heads and long-distance shots.

Later, the pair signed autographs, photos and basketballs and presented children with basketball cards. They included many of the children as they demonstrated techniques for shooting and catching basketballs.

"This gym is for these young children who will use and grow with it," Lemon and Neal said. "We plan to return in the near future and hold basketball clinics here. It's an ideal place for it."

The dedication also was an opportunity for several presentations.

Master of ceremonies David Nenna presented a plaque to Leona Dabney, one of the leaders of the fund-raisers for the gym and park that bear her name. And tribal Chief Duane Garfield presented a check for $5,000 to Jim Kusserow, director of the Fabulous Studio Band, for the band's trip for a Dec. 22 performance at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Bill Sharman, a standout athlete at Porterville High who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the NBA's Washington Capitals and Boston Celtics, was also on hand for the ceremony. Sharman was an eight-time NBA All-Star in the mid- and late 1950s with the Celtics and was the NBA Coach of the Year in 1972 during a five-year head-coaching stint with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is one of only 10 players to have won NBA championships as both a player and a coach.

Others attending the ceremony were former UCLA basketball star and Globetrotters representative Keith Erickson; Tulare County Supervisor Jim Maples, a former coach with the Porterville College basketball team; and Assembly Member Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno.

The gymnasium and adjacent park were the dream of Dabney and several other tribal members.

The gym is an 11,600-square-foot complex that includes a 9,600-square-foot gym with a wooden floor, electronic scoreboards, retractable bleachers, a stage for community events and entertainment, girls and boys locker rooms, showers, restrooms and a weight room. The second story houses 2,000 square feet of space with offices for youth activities and outreach groups.

Construction started in May for the new building located next to the tribal housing offices, but planning began in 1997 when the tribal council committed to building a gymnasium for the local youth. The building was designed by Dennis Townsend of the Townsend Architectural Group in Porterville.

Nenna, the tribal administrator, said the building was paid for by a $228,000 Community Development Block Grant and savings from other construction projects on the reservation.

"Everyone from visitors to tribal members has classified the building as beautiful," Nenna said, "and [we're] looking forward to both children and adults using this ... facility."

Maples agreed that the gym would be an asset to the reservation and was impressed with the dedication ceremony.

"This was a wonderful and impressive event with the traditional Indian prayers and music," he said. "We had four worldwide-known athletes attending. This ... gym dedicated to the children here will be an ideal central spot for special and athletics events for the future."


Meadowlark Lemon Foundation
The name is unforgettable. The face is instantly recognizable. He has been the creative force and focal point of international comedic basketball since he began his career with the Harlem Globetrotters more than four decades ago. From the inner-city playgrounds where youngsters try to duplicate his basketball artistry to the luxurious cities of the world, Meadowlark Lemon is a household name.

Porterville, CA near
Porterville, CA far

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