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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 4, 2003 - Issue 97


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Chemawa School Steps Up on Gridiron


by Dan Itel Statesman Journal


credits: photo by Lori Cain - Statesman Journal


Chemawa Indian School football team.With such a rich history, it seems odd for an athletic program to face such a challenge to rebuild.

But such is the case with the Chemawa Indian School football team.

This season the Braves are playing their first varsity schedule in five years. Last year, the team finished an independent junior varsity schedule with a 2-4 record. The team didn't score a touchdown until the third game.

Last week, against Waldport, Chemawa lost 53-8.

The boarding school is far removed from its past.

Chemawa was playing football in Salem before Salem High School (now North Salem) had even opened its doors.

Salem High School opened in 1906, 21 years after Chemawa. And from 1897 to 1905, Chemawa's football team played the University of Oregon five times.

This week's opponent for the current Chemawa football team is the Woodburn junior varsity team. Chemawa will play five varsity games and three JV games this season. Next year, the Braves will play in the Tri River Conference.

"Most of these kids have never even played football before," Chemawa head coach Rick Waddell said. "But every time we step on the field we're having successes."

A lot has changed in football since Chemawa played the University of Oregon, obviously. And Chemawa has a long way to go to regain the on-field respectability it once had during the days it played Oregon.

"It gets discouraging sometimes," Waddell said. "You're battling something new every day."

Chemawa is a boarding school that brings in Native American students from around the country, most of whom have had problems in more traditional school environments. For a football team a less stable student body can produce problems from participation numbers to eligibility issues.

"The best athlete in the school we sent home," Waddell said. "We work with the kids who want to be here. I guess I'm old school like that."

Waddell starting teaching at the school in 1997, a year in which just nine players came out and no team was formed. But this year the outlook is positive. At a recent no-pads practice in preparation for the Woodburn game, Waddell counted 34 players.

"We don't even have that much equipment," he said.

Waddell is trying to resurrect a fall sports camp in the weeks before school starts.

At Chemawa, school starts several weeks later than most schools in the state. And when the students arrive, it's only then that coaches know how many and who comes out for the team.

"Our first game is usually our opponents' second or third," he said.

But players like senior quarterback John Rides Horse give Waddell optimism. Rides Horse, who is from Park City, Mont., has been with the team for three years.

The 6-foot-3, natural athlete also runs cross country, plays basketball in the winter, runs track and plays baseball in the spring.

"We're just starting to come together as a team," Rides Horse said. "It takes awhile for that because we're all from different places."

Rides Horse expected seven players from last year's team to return but only three did.

"We're jumping to varsity all of a sudden with junior varsity players," he said. "It's hard to keep a good team."

But what Chemawa is aiming for isn't measured solely by on-field success. Waddell hopes the experience of playing a sport teaches students work ethic, social skills and teamwork.

Waddell brought several players to the Oregon football game Saturday against Michigan. He said the experience has opened their eyes to new goals in life.

"This is the first time a lot of these guys have even been part of a team," Waddell said. "It's starting to get better. It's a different attitude. Kids are showing up every day, getting here early."

Sophomore offensive lineman Derek Muniz, from the Umatilla tribe in Eastern Oregon where he attended Pilot Rock High School, is in his first year at the school. He was one of the students who went to the Oregon game with Waddell.

"It was great," Muniz said.

He said playing on the football team has helped him to get good grades and stay out of trouble.

"It keeps me motivated," he said.

Rides Horse said players on the team this year have a pride that hasn't existed in the past.

"Even if we're behind 40 points we're still having fun," said Rides Horse, who hopes to attend the University of Oregon next year. "Just as long as we get to play the game."

Waddell is cautious about expectations for the team.

"It's going to be a slow process," he said. "Change is change, and it's going to take a little longer here than it would in the rest of the world."

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