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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 20, 2003 - Issue 96


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Soccer Comes to the Rez

by Steve McGaughey Farmington Daily Times

Young Soccer Players in actionTUBA CITY, Ariz. — The term rez ball may take on a whole new meaning in a few years — one where the nets are on the desert ground instead of silhouetted against a reservation sky — if a sports movement started here takes hold.

Basketball rules supreme when it comes to sports on the Navajo Nation, but the first baby steps toward making soccer a viable athletic option for reservation youths are being taken by a group in Tuba City. The group, sanctioned as Pilot Region 1440 by the American Youth Soccer Organization, started play Saturday with 16 teams for players ranging from age four to age 12.

Soccer is the top sport in popularity world-wide, and has slowly but steadily grown more popular in the United States over the past 20 years. It's yet to reach the reservation in any organized way, however. As an example, Shiprock is the only District 1-4A member that doesn't field either a boys or girls soccer team.

That may not be true in the future, however, if the Tuba City experiment grows from its beginnings on Saturday.

"Basketball is big on the reservation, but I can see that," said Marci Fowler, a Navajo and assistant coach for one of the Tuba City teams. "Nobody has an idea what soccer is (here), but we want to make something out of it."

The genesis for organized soccer on the reservation came from Dr. William Orman, a pediatrician at the Tuba City Regional Healthcare Corporation. He's the head of the soccer organization in Tuba City and hopes the sport will catch on at other areas of the reservation, such as Crownpoint and Shiprock.

"I think it would be a good thing for the other Navajo communities," Orman said. "It would be nice if it would spread to some of the other communities on the reservation."

But rest easy, basketball purists. Orman and others don't want to replace hoops on the rez, just provide another athletic outlet and, more importantly, get children to exercise more.

"I'm a pediatrician and that is probably the main thing," Orman said. "The reason we got the hospital involved is to get the kids more active and away from the TV sets and video games.

"Any active experience is a good thing for our kids and soccer is a very active sport."

There is, of course, another benefit for the young people.

"Just for the fun of it," Fowler said. "As long as you're having fun an it gets you out of the house, it's positive."

Orman saw soccer being played in Flagstaff and wanted to bring it to the reservation. His employer helped with the startup.

Orman has a 10-year-old son, so that was another motivating factor in his desire to bring soccer to the reservation. But he's not a soccer aficionado, and that's true for most of the groups board members and coaches.

"A lot of them are in the same boat I am," Orman said. "They're not experts on soccer."

That isn't deterring anyone, though. Around 125 children have signed up for the program, almost as many as are taking part in a little league baseball program started a few years ago by one of Orman's colleagues.

"I was not too surprised," Orman said of the large number of kids who signed up for the sport. "Sports have always been popular here on the reservation.

"The real question is 'could we get parents to sign up?' It's actually gone pretty well. We've got coaches for all 16 teams and three-fourths of those have assistant coaches."

The organization stresses the philosophy of letting every child play.

"That was an incentive for me," Orman said. "We let anyone play. It doesn't matter what their level of ability is."

Also, Orman said, soccer isn't an expensive sport to take up, requiring just a ball and net. "Soccer is a very simple game, equipment-wise."

So, with just a net, a ball and some interest, soccer matches could become as commonplace on the reservation someday as pickup basketball games are now. Even if it never replaces hoops as the most popular sport on the rez, soccer could in the future provide kids with more opportunity for exercise, and fun.

"We would like to get to the point where they like to play soccer and play it on their own," Orman said.

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