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
"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
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,"
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
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
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
"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."