Red Earth board of directors has named Oklahoma basketball coach
Kelvin Sampson its Ambassador of the Year.
The award was founded in 1991 to promote
pride in American Indian heritage and to recognize individuals who
have made significant contributions in presenting a positive image
of Native Americans.
The board said it chose Sampson, a Lumbee
Indian, because he is an exceptional role model for all young people,
showing what can be accomplished with perseverance and dedication.
Sampson will receive the 2002 Red Earth
Ambassador of the Year award in a June 7 ceremony during the Red
Earth Festival at the Cox Business Services Convention Center.
Ned Sampson feared for his life. Not on
the 1958 night he confronted the Ku Klux Klan in a North Carolina
field, but on the night last week doctors told him a blood clot
was boxing out his brain from left to right.
"Any time they start drilling holes
in your head, it's scary," Sampson said.
He figured he'd survive and advance anyway.
He's Lumbee Indian, after all, a member of a tribe of 50,000 the
U.S. government refuses to recognize.
"It's never been easy for my people,"
Sampson said Thursday from Atlanta. "But we always find a way."
The hard way. The most unforgiving road
to the Final Four, a path taken by four men of color before Ned's
son, Kelvin, and Indiana's Mike Davis booked a semifinal without
a white head coach.
Davis is the first Hoosiers coach any
right-minded fan could cheer since Gene Hackman. On a day Arkansas
hired a black successor to a black icon, on a day Mo Cheeks and
Byron Scott jockey for NBA coach of the year votes, Davis represents
another testament to basketball's encouraging move toward African-American
There's been no shift in favor of the
Native-American, forever the last man on his homeland's bench.
"There were some great Native-American
coaches in my day," said Ned Sampson, 72, a high school coach
for 30 years, "but we'd never get the best jobs. I thought
Kelvin would end up being a high school coach in North Carolina.
The first time he told me he wanted to be a college coach I just
said, 'That's fine.' "
The old man didn't want to deflate the
kid's dream, but all-American ignorance inflicts long-term pain.
Their world was one of separate schools, theaters and bathrooms
for whites, blacks and Indians. Six years after he began coaching,
Ned joined hundreds of Lumbees in a raid on a Klan meeting, chasing
the hooded cowards before any cross was burned.
"And they haven't been back since,"
Ned said. "You can't let people like that impose their will
Ned imposed his good will on Kelvin. Father
rode the son harder than any Pembroke High player for fear that
parents might suspect bias in his huddle.
"I knew Kelvin could take it,"
Kelvin could take Oklahoma to the Final
Four at a time when a college intramural team calls itself the Fighting
Whites in response to schools embracing mascots offensive to Indians
and Congress withholds federal recognition to his tribe, one that
has sought such recognition for 114 years.
The Lumbee is among the nation's largest
tribes and, some believe, the yield of an amalgam of Indians and
the Lost Colony of Sir Walter Raleigh, 117 settlers who vanished
in the late 1500s. "If white folks weren't around keeping records,
white folks say, 'We don't know who you are,' " said Arlinda
Locklear, a Lumbee attorney and first Native-American woman to win
a Supreme Court case.
"Our tribe would be eligible for
so many benefits if federally recognized that even some other tribes
have opposed us. Indians aren't high on the totem pole to begin
with; being treated as a second-class Indian means you can't get
lower. I hope I live long enough to see recognition."
Ned Sampson was quick to second that thought.
He was stepping off the Oklahoma bus in San Jose when team trainers
saw him stumbling into a chain-link fence. Sampson told them he'd
been having headaches aspirin couldn't beat. Before the old man
knew it, he was out of surgery and watching Oklahoma beat Missouri
on TV, watching as Kelvin and his victorious team marched through
his hospital room door. "No tears," Ned said. "We
might've hugged once or twice."
Before the father could fly to the Final
Four, doctors slid tubes into the holes in his skull and drained
post-op fluid. Ned said from his Atlanta hotel room he wasn't sure
he'd be strong enough to attend the Indiana game "I'm
day-to-day" but was more hopeful about the possibilities
It would be the end of a long, unforgiving
road, even if Oklahoma's coach swears he feels guilt over never
having been a high school coach.
"My son shouldn't worry about paying
dues," Ned Sampson said. "I've paid enough for the both