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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 1, 2002 - Issue 62


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On the Right Path

Bobbi Jo SherwoodBobbi Jo Sherwood has seen her share of misery at Wellpinit.

Now she's ready to run away.

First, she wants to run for her first medal at next week's State B track meet in Cheney.

Then she wants to extend her leave from the Spokane Indian Reservation by running off to college in New Mexico.

"Just seeing a lot of people not leave (the reservation) motivates me," Sherwood said. "Watching people close to me has taught me a lot. Watching them being bad kind of teaches me I don't want to be that way. I want to go further in my life. There are a lot of Native Americans there, I'll feel comfortable."

Leaving the reservation for any reason, let alone to attend Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in Albuquerque, is generally difficult for any Native American.

"In all honesty, it is culture shock," said Wellpinit native and school athletic director/liaison Wendy Wynecoop, who started at Portland State University and finished at Eastern Washington. "It is really hard to leave here and go out in the real world. Everyone around here is family; it's a tight-knit, small community. I do worry about them when they choose to go far away, but I try to keep open the lines of communication.

"I stress to kids home is always going to be here. Go see the world and if you choose to come back, it's fine. Come back because you want to, not because you have to."

When Sherwood comes home, it's to the home of her grandparents, Robert and Helen, where she moved in eighth grade because, she said, her mother is an alcoholic.

"My grandparents taught me how to move on. They've always been there for me, directing me the right way. They're real smart," Sherwood said.

"Mr. (Dennis) Dennigan (the track coach) has always directed me in the right way, like my grandparents. He's like a second father. If it wasn't for my grandparents and Mr. Dennigan, I don't know where I'd be."

It's not as if Sherwood isn't used to going her own way. Of the group that she started running with when she moved from Springdale in junior high, she's one of the few who didn't give in to temptations.

"When I moved to Wellpinit, running was real popular," Sherwood said. "My friends were running and I just stuck with it. There's always the popular (party) group. I dropped out and kept running. We have a lot of talented runners in Wellpinit who could be where I'm at now. A lot of them ran in junior high. When we got to high school, it was me and William (Smallwood)."

Smallwood was Sherwood's soul mate, or at least a sole mate. Smallwood, the school's most-decorated runner, gave up track when a good friend died in a car accident at Usk on April 25, an accident law enforcement officials believe was alcohol-related.

"William was deeply troubled by this death and made the decision not to finish the track season," Dennigan said.

Smallwood ran second in the State B 3,200 meters last spring and third in State A-B cross country last fall.

"For us losing William as a runner is really sad because it's always been a William and Bobbi Jo day as far as going to state," said Sherwood. "It's hard (to stay motivated). We've been running since junior high together."

She has learned from those difficult lessons.

"I don't go to parties," she said. "I've tried before and I know it's just more fun being sober than it is to drink by just watching everybody. They know I don't like to drink. They respect my decision. They know I want to go to college. A lot of people think it's weird. It's just the way I am, I guess."

"Bobbi's just always been Bobbi; she's pretty incredible," Wynecoop said. "There is a lot of peer pressure, but kids that choose to stay straight have become the majority instead of the minority."

A drug-testing program has contributed.

"Drug testing is undertaken at Wellpinit High School as an awareness as well as a prevention," superintendent Reid Riedlinger said. "All athletes for all sports programs are individually drug-tested prior to the starting day for each sport."

There is also random testing. The cost, $25 per test, comes out of the school's general fund.

Dennigan is pessimistic.

"I would have thought that the reaction of the students (to the accident) would have been a sober one," he said after attending the wake. "Instead, the overall drinking and drug problem seems worse."

Wynecoop said one of the problems at Wellpinit is that there is so little for teenagers to do. Riedlinger said the problems at his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation are no different than other schools but are more noticeable because of the size.

"In large communities, one can get lost in the logistics of the numbers," he said. "The awareness extends itself here because we know historically who is involved and who is not."

Sherwood is not one of them. Dennigan knew she was special from the beginning.

"In fifth grade, when I saw her running in the parking lot with her Converse All-Stars on, I could tell," he said. "She was so smooth."

He is hoping that after failing to place in the high jump as a freshman and narrow misses in distance races the last two years, Sherwood has a smooth finish to her high school career.

She will run the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in the the District 7 meet Saturday at Spokane Falls Community College with a berth at state on the line. The top four advance to state.

She won the Panorama League distance double, lowering her time in the 3,200 despite running alone, winning by a minute, making her a strong favorite to advance.

Dennigan, who has been through the emotional roller coaster with Smallwood's defection, brightens at the thought of watching Sherwood's final races.

"To me, she's reaching the top of what she can do," he said. "That's rewarding. Sometimes as a (Wellpinit) coach you have a sense that you have to make them peak at ninth or 10th grade because you're going to lose them."

Riedlinger said, "That's one perception. I don't see that in other programs."

Wellpinit took second in the girls state cross country meet, thanks to a group of eighth-graders and Sherwood, who hopes she has left a lasting impression.

"If they keep going, they're going to be unstoppable," Sherwood said. "We've had so much time together, I don't think they'll go in the wrong direction. When I was in eighth grade, it was more wild."

But she's never been more grounded than now.

"We finally have some kids that want to be leaders, want to be role models and Bobbi Jo has been an outstanding leader for the younger kids," Wynecoop said. "Bobbi Jo is just a kind soul. She is always pleasant, never has a bad thing to say about anybody. That's why everybody is so attached to her."

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